3, 6, 9- Step 1: Cultural Capital


(I’m writing this in preparation for the #KELTChat on Critical Pedagogy I’ve been asked to moderate next weekend)

I always sum up Critical Pedagogy into 3, 6 and 9 words

3  Nothing is neutral

6  Education is a consciousness-raising undertaking

9  Reshaping the power structures in our classrooms remodels everything.

Try not to equate Critical Pedagogy with Critical Thinking Tools – or the diagrams and techniques that go with such tools. It’s not that one has nothing to do with the other, but Critical Pedagogy is less about practical techniques and more about deeper understanding, the kind of understanding that changes who you are as a teacher and not just how you teach a specific lesson.

What does a tool do?

It takes a complex idea,

It breaks it down into smaller parts, and

It finds a technique for understanding that can be used in other places (if it’s a good enough tool)

What does pedagogy do?

It takes a complex idea,

It finds its key(s), and

It renders it meaningful and accessible in its context – revealing other things that are meaningful and accessible.

So Critical Pedagogy is

-not (just) about pros and cons

-not (just) about problems and solutions

-not (just) about interpreting information and drawing conclusions

Critical Pedagogy is, in the words of Henry Giroux;

“a project that stresses the need for teachers and students to actively transform knowledge rather than simply consume it”


“it is crucial for educators to not only connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories and resources that students bring…but to link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time”

Giroux, H. (2011) On Critical Pedagogy. London. Continuum.

Critical pedagogy is a a deeply social phenomenon in education and you can’t really isolate it as a tool for analysis without embedding it in the lives of the people under discussion. So this is a good starting point- understanding who we are talking about and not just what we are talking about.

Before we chat, I suggest you read a little about Critical Pedagogy here:

I suggest that we start the chat by talking about what is embedded in your lives as teachers and in the lives of the students who impact your practice and your growth. A first step do doing this is to think about cultural capital.

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital refers to all the non-financial social assets that aid social mobility: someone’s education, their intellect, the way they speak, sometimes even their physical appearance.

This is particularly pertinent when it comes to English and our role in facilitating its acquisition. We witness every day how learning English gives access to better jobs, better education, better income in some cases…and while this is perhaps a necessary phenomenon, it isn’t necessarily a neutral phenomenon.

Cultural capital isn’t just something that one has, but something that assumes different value in different contexts. Value systems change not just across generations but through education.

So think about your cultural capital as an ELT teacher, and about the cultural capital your students may or may not bring to the learning situation and let’s take the conversation from there….

This concept is something that the philosopher Pierre Bourdieu talked about a lot. If you’d like to read more, look here:

(The next post in this series is on The Hidden Curriculum)


6 thoughts on “3, 6, 9- Step 1: Cultural Capital

  1. Hi Divya,

    First of all, thank you for writing about this. We’ve been discussing in various places online elements of critical pedagogy, and related subjects such as critical thinking and properly interrogating and questioning anyone who claims to have some kind of magic cure-all (whether it be for education or anything else), but I’ll be honest in that I’m very much a novice in this area. I realise now that one of the things in my recent post on this topic (Bloom and interpretation of his ideas) is only one, small, part of the bigger picture (mixing up critical pedagogy and ‘critical thinking tools’). This whole area of criticality is definitely something I want to address more in the future, when I find more of a vocabulary. Which by responding to your post I hope to start doing.

    Your prompts at the end of the post get me thinking about the kind of English that I teach, and the kind of English I’d feel comfortable teaching. What English do you teach, Mike? Well, in a way it can only really be my English. And that carries with it certain implied aspects of status. What is *my English*? What does it sound like? What are the features that make it up? Well, I suppose that to some ears it might sound like a kind of ‘posh’ English, but really it’s more an educated south London type of English (from my education, and also how my parents brought me up). So I can’t negate these things. It is even influenced by my own life experience. Is it license or licence? I’m never sure which is the correct BrE spelling, since I don’t drive – it doesn’t form part of my daily life or the experience that has lead me to where I am today.

    So I can’t negate this. Just as I shouldn’t negate my students’ own languages. And their own Englishes as well. Their learning of the language is inevitably shaped by their experience and need to use it.

    But it’s a lot more than this, isn’t it? Knowledge of (world, national, local) politics, (popular and more niche) culture, certain bits of knowledge that we take for granted, depending on where and when we grew up… the list could go on and on. And so could this comment, so I’ll end there.

    Look forward to reading more of your posts on the topic and hopefully following a bit of KELTchat – is it this Saturday?


    1. Hi Mike,

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. I love the driver’s licence(se?) anecdote and illustrates so nicely how each situational language identity can be.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with asking (deep) questions about what we take for granted (Alastair Pennycook would call this ‘givens’ that need to be ‘problematized’) and the very process of doing so brings about a change in mindset, and this inevitably trickles down into a change in pedagogical beliefs and then our pedagogy that manifests itself in the classroom.

      The chat is Sunday 1pm Paris time by the way. It would be great to see you there

      Divya :)x


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