III Reconceptualizing Education outside of Human Capital Language
And You Gotta Believe Me: When Social and Human Capital Collide
Human capital theories that dominate the educational theories of our times, focusing upon skills, test scores, and competition in economic markets often deny the existence of other relevant and valid ways of looking at learners and teaching, and in so doing deny other purposes of healthy communities. Theorists have argued that pedagogic approaches resting on these Human Capital arguments result in “apolitical” or decontextualized systems of thinking and are often misapplied to other contexts. Such thinkers have argued for more socially responsive alternatives (Baptiste, 2001; Penn, 2005; Rodriguez, 2009). One result of such narrowing of thinking is a focus on assumed links between academic achievement and employment opportunity (Lightfoot-Rueda & Peach, introduction of this volume) often at the expense of social relevance of curriculum in the young child’s classroom, a cornerstone of student motivation.
Social capital theories, following closely with human capital, denote the existence of skills, rights, and goods among the elite (Bourdieu, 1986). Such social capital is readily available, well-orchestrated, and then transformed into cultural capital for students (if the student is also of the elite, and the parent behaves in a way that takes advantage of social status, education, networks, and or other forms of advocacy in schools). Prominent theorists who’ve worked explicitly with Bourdieu’s concepts have long argued that as parents become involved and engaged in schools, their status as either low-income, working- class, middle income, or of professional class have marked differences in securing school advantage (Lareau, 2000, 2003).
However, culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), a strategy that is related to cultural capital, attempts to take advantage of what children bring to the classroom (despite social class) and argues for teachers to alter the way they look at the skills and knowledge(s) that students of marginalized groups commonly bring to the classroom. Thus, to capitalize upon those community and family strengths, teaching the skills and contents of the culture of power is a hallmark of good teaching, taking advantage of the social capital of both the elite and the working class (Ladson-Billings, 1994). CRP, focusing upon dismantling common power dynamics among individuals or taking advantage of what children “know” to alter curriculum (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Street, 2005), has a capacity to dismantle class advantage in schools, but descriptions of how it is done among mostly white teachers is rare (Johnson, Baker, & Bruner 2007).
While social capital commonly refers to the networks common among the elite allowing social exchange and resource accumulation leading to cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986, in Szeman & Kaposy, 2011), in this chapter the author examines the ways her teachers increased their own social and cultural capital to respond to their students, not only creating a CRP of sorts, but also allowing them to take advantage of their own changing perspectives about black children and communities in North America as they formulated alternative ways of teaching African American children in one urban, high-poverty setting.
Utilizing and critiquing the neoliberal discourses of a university- school partnership within a community civic engagement learning agenda, the author of this chapter describes the thinking processes and agency of teachers of young children as they create a culturally relevant curriculum to act against and within human capital assumptions. While a more thorough treatment of these many types of theories is beyond the scope of this chapter, social capital theories have been argued to provide the relationships that establish group membership and carry with them power in the form of shared capital between human beings (Trainor, 2010).