It isn’t Just what you know, it’s whom you know: The Centrality of Social Capital Mentoring in School, War, and Beyond
The theme of this paper relates to the themes of “global civil society” and “democratic cultures” as well as "education for social change." The paper assumes the Jeffersonian notion that to maximize freedom for all citizens, democratic cultures should promote the development of critical consciousness, education, and civic engagement among their people. The paper’s focus on understanding how class inequalities are reproduced in the United States and how the process stunts the development of popular critical consciousness and civic engagement for change suggests not only implications for democracy in the U.S. but also for a US profile of collaboration in global civil society. A growing body of research and practice points to the centrality of social capital in an individual’s fortunes in school, at war, and beyond. Drawing on a recent ethnographic study of 100 community college students in the United States and a colloquium panel at the 12th International Conference on Learning (Granada, Spain, 2006), this paper questions whether there is, as purported generally, a true U.S. meritocracy of education. Social capital advantages, such as those leading to differentials in per-pupil expenditures at private versus public schools, legacy set asides for affluent children of alumni, and the like, reproduce class structures that unfairly proscribe student achievement or failure—and by extension, the degree and nature of citizens’ civic involvement. Low income and racial minority students are underrepresented in graduate and professional schools, yet they are overrepresented among the soldiers serving and dying in the military, as well in the nation’s prisons. Programs like the Leadership Alliance, a consortium of 30 of America’s finest colleges and universities, including the Meyerhoff Program at UMBC, are examples of efforts to increase student diversity in graduate and professional schools and in research positions by “scaffolding” students within deliberately extended social capital networks of mentors. By overtly teaching students of all ages the value in consciously expanding and extending their social capital networks of knowledge mentors, the Leadership Alliance, the Meyerhoff Program, and researchers at the Twelfth International Conference on Learning design networks that will focus on the centrality of developing social capital movements of mentors who expand networks of awareness and knowledge sharing, increase their strength and numbers and, consequently, boost the effect of their contributions to social change.
Keywords: Social Capital, Critical Consciousness, Critical Pedagogy, Civic Engagement
Dr. David K. Truscello
Professor of English, Liberal Arts Division, The Community College of Baltimore County