Academic journal article High School Journal

Seeing the Light: Cultural and Social Capital Productions in an Inner-City High School

Academic journal article High School Journal

Seeing the Light: Cultural and Social Capital Productions in an Inner-City High School

Article excerpt

Youth advocates employed in a school-to-work program in an inner-city public high school promoted the college attainments of low-income Black students through the production of cultural and social capital. Analysis framed by cultural reproduction and production theories explicate how they inverted the ideological aims of the program; redefined their roles as "surrogate" middle-class parents; generated cultural productions through reality therapy; and created useful links to social resources and networks. Youth advocates changed the educational trajectory of some students. But there were other students who used cultural and social capital in productions that kept them closely tied to their families, neighborhoods, and local workplaces.

Seeing the Light: Cultural and Social Capital Productions in an Inner-city High School

Many urban public high schools especially those serving low-income students of color are using paraeducators, community mentors, and other intermediaries to provide additional assistance. Intermediaries perform a number of supplemental roles as translators, counselors, and tutors as well as cultural brokers who bridge home/school cultural differences (Rueda & DeNeve, 1999). Because they are not restricted to classrooms, they are often in a better position then teachers to connect disadvantaged students to a wider spectrum of cultural and social means for advancement. Many view themselves as advocates who take concerted action to help students navigate the "unfamiliar territory" of Anglo-European, middle-class society (Ernst-Slavit & Wenger, 2006).

In the late 1990s, I observed a school-to-work program that employed intermediaries known as youth advocates. The program was located in an inner-city high school, Central City High (1), serving mostly low-income Black students. The primary responsibility of youth advocates was to assist students with internship job placements. But I discovered during my fieldwork that they objected to what they perceived to be the insidious ideological intent of the program to relegate low-income, Black youths to dead-end, minimum-wage jobs. Instead of participating in what they felt was the perpetuation of socio-economic inequalities, youth advocates sought to promote the college attainments of students by encouraging them, as one phrased it, to "see the light." They made a concerted effort to help students acquire the cultural and social capital they needed to go to college by inverting the program's ideology and redefining their roles as "surrogate" middle-class parents who facilitated upward mobility through strategic cultural productions and links to social resources and networks. Cultural reproduction and production theoretical perspectives are used to frame the analysis of youth advocates' productions and how they changed the trajectories of some students. But there were other students who used cultural and social capital to create their own productions, ones that strengthened rather than severed their connections to families, neighborhoods, and local workplaces. These productions carried their own possibilities for low-income, Black youths.

Cultural and Social Capital

Pierre Bourdieu (1977; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990) offers powerful theoretical insights into the critical importance of cultural and social capital in education and how this capital is distributed in ways that contribute to the reproduction of socio-economic inequalities. Cultural capital includes valued academic and mainstream cultural knowledge and, just as importantly, the cultural dispositions that are most conducive for success in various school settings (Brubaker, 2004). It is also derived from the cultural connections people make with books, computers, and other education-related objects as well as universities, libraries, and other education-related institutions (Grenfell & James, 1998; Robbins, 2000). Social capital is constituted as the social resources and networks that enable people to promote their own or others' educational achievement and attainment. …

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