African American Culture and Heritage in Higher Education Research and Practice

By Kassie Freeman | Go to book overview

6
The College Experience: A Conceptual Framework to Consider for Enhancing Students' Educational Gains

Lemuel W. Watson


INTRODUCTION

Sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron are known for their work in social, class, and cultural reproduction within the educational systems. Bourdieu ( 1977) view education as an important social and political force in the process of class reproduction. By appearing to be an impartial and neutral "transmitter" of the benefits of a valued culture, schools are able to promote inequality in the name of fairness and objectivity. Bourdieu refers to this inequality as cultural capital, which is central to his argument. Bourdieu ( 1977) concept of cultural capital refers to the different sets of linguistics and cultural competencies that individuals inherit by way of the class-location boundaries of their families.

In more specific terms, a child inherits from his or her family sets of meanings, quality of style, modes of thinking, and types of dispositions that are accorded a certain social value and status as a result of what the dominant class or classes label as the most valued cultural capital. Schools play a particularly important role in both legitimating and reproducing the dominant culture, especially at the level of higher education, and embody class interest and ideologies that capitalize on a kind of familiarity and set of skills that only specific students have received by means of their family backgrounds and class relation ( Bourdieu, 1977). A four-year college degree has often been referred to as a ticket into the American middle class ( Bowles & Gintis, 1976). Upward mobility in American society is defined by changes in occupational status and income and is inextricably aligned to postsecondary education in modern American society ( Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

How does this cultural capital affect college students and their educational gains? What can be done in institutions of higher education to assist students in their learning and development? More importantly, are there differences between historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUS) and predominantly White

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