“Culture and education aren’t simply hobbies or minor influences.”Pierre Bourdieu
There is a lot being written in the UK educational press about the importance of Cultural Capital and how much pupils should be accruing through their time in school. In the UK this is a subject that is connected to the inspection framework and it is seen by many commentators as a way in which schools in affluent areas can game the inspection system (and life in general) at the expense of others who do not enjoy such a comfortable existence. Crudely put, Cultural Capital is the stuff you know and the stuff that you experience. Once acquired (the sociologists tell us) such knowledge and experience give you an advantage. You speak the same language as others who are “in the know”, refer to the same experiences and in doing so exclude those who don’t or haven’t. It takes on greater importance when social mobility is considered. Not surprising therefore that it is, post-election, a hot topic in the UK. Being here in France means that we don’t have to engage in all such educational debates, but I think that we should be thinking about this idea as a school and what we might do with it.
Whilst many of our Year 13 pupils head off to the UK for university many do not. When it comes for them to enter the world of work many will have lived in a number of different places and have developed a broader perspective on the world than those who have been rooted to a single home country. Having had an experience of living elsewhere may well be of interest to a future employer. It may well give them access to courses or careers that would not be available to someone who has not had an international upbringing. This advantage simply comes about as a consequence of being an internationally mobile family, it is not something that we are consciously using to set our pupils apart, it is simply a fact of who we are. We have an internationally rich community – we have more than 50 nations represented in the school, again this is who we are. The lessons that our young people learn about understanding, tolerance and diversity are I would argue the sort of social or cultural capital that all schools should be investing in. I don’t believe that we use our undoubtedly privileged existence to exclude anyone, far from it.
We are fortunate in being able to offer learning experiences that are broadening both in and out of the classroom. We live on the edge of or in a city that is culturally and artistically extraordinary, we would be foolish to deny ourselves access to the offer of Paris simply because it may lead us to be labelled as culturally privileged. Indeed, I’d go so far as to encourage families to make the most of being here, of visiting the opera, or the ballet, or the galleries, or the museums, or the theatres, or the sites of interest because to miss out would be a shame. There is little excuse of missing an opportunity such as this. These opportunities should not be used to exclude others, I believe that they simply allow our young people to grow as individuals who will eventually do good in their own communities. So, if you are staycationing this half term then why not make the most of Paris and build that available cultural capital?