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Authors

Susan A. Dumais

Abstract

Bourdieu (1973) theorized that differences in social background correspond to differences in possession of cultural resources (cultural capital), as well as the orientation to those resources (habitus). Additionally, Bourdieu argued that struggles for power occur in different settings (fields). His essay reviews Bourdieu’s main ideas and describes how they may apply to the American educational system. In particular, two setting are considered; public elementary schools and Catholic elementary schools. Based in analyses using data form the Early Childhood, Longitudinal Study (ECLS), Catholic school kindergartners are more likely to participate in arts activities, and their parents are more likely to be involved in and comfortable with the school environment. Regression analysis show that arts lessons and attendance at arts events do not affect teachers’ perceptions of the effort or ability of students in either public or Catholic schools. Parents’ orientation toward school has more of an effect in public than in Catholic schools. In public schools, attending open houses and conferences, volunteering, and feeling unwelcome at school all affect teachers’ evaluations of students’ effort and ability, while only attendance at school events and conferences affect teachers’ perceptions in Catholic schools. These findings suggest that the traditional definition of cultural capital may not be appropriate for young American children, that parents’ orientation toward schooling should be included in future studies of educational stratification, and that more research is needed in the examination of public-Catholic school differences in cultural resources.

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