Culture Questionnaires: Initial student research

So today I welcomed my year 12s back into the lesson after their exams and we started thinking about some critical theory work and culture in general. As we all know the true best test of how cultured you are is to do a pub quiz, so thats what we did.

I asked the following questions to a small class of 9 students aged 16-18. Some of these questions are deliberately bad (by that i mean poorly phrased). There is no 'best' TV show, for example, but I was trying to stimulate some response and light hearted nature around this.

1: What do you understand by the term culture?
2: What are the best TV shows?
3. Name, in your opinion, the best movies ever made
4. Name some 'classic' albums and great songs that you have heard
5. What are the top 5 books you have ever read
6. What is your favourite painting and favourite artists
7. Name a great piece of classical music/opera or jazz
8. From where do you think you get most of your cultural knowledge?
9. Would you say that you are a 'cultured person'? Why?
10. To what extent has school helped improve your knowledge of culture?
11. What could school do to improve cultural knowledge?

So from this first round of questions its clear to see the problem with any attempt to raise or improve culture, i.e that it is subjective. The questions feel silly and lack seriousness. How can we or what is the point of judging what is the best TV show for instance? But isn't this precisiely what E.D.Hirsch and the UK department for education does all the time when it draws up 'things your child should know about' type lists?

For round 2 I asked about 4 key terms that would appear on the course next year, just as a quick way of assessing some prior knowledge that has a direct relationship to A2 Media studies course material. I f my students had a really solid conception of these terms and ideas before the start of the course I think it would be considered advantageous.

1: What is Capitalism?
2: What is Socialism?
3: What is Democracy?
4: What is Postmodernism?

The results are below:

  Results summary:

Q1. Most students understand what culture is. Excellent!
Q2 -Q7:
So any comments on these results are likely to be contentious and laden with middle class value judgements about what is and isn't culture. The point of these questions is not to laugh at the selections made or make judgements about their lack of referencing to the classics but just to get an insight into the cultural background of a fairly typical group of students.

Interestingly the student I would say takes the keenest interest in film and photography and who probably has the best production work in this area, did offer up Goodfellas and the Godfather as choices for 'best film' which shows some awareness of a cultural canon. I think its ok to recognise artistic skill in some areas!

Some of the comments here do show a lack of awareness of classical music ("what is opera!" etc) and fine art, no surprises there then. But there picture is one of a group of students who consume on teh whole typical popular culture and don't read much outside of GCSE set texts

Q8: Most students rated school highly on their list, which is interesting as it may show the potential school has for adding even more cultural content to students if they are in fact already open and receptive to school as a point of cultural exposure

Q9: Again, nearly all of them saw themselves as 'cultured' and why wouldn't they? They are! They live in central london the most ethnically diverse city on the planet in the age of the internet where they consume more information than any teenagers in history. I'm sure there are plenty of stuffy intellectuals who would argue their knowledge of 'British values' or classic literature defines them as 'uncultured' but I think the fact that they saw themselves as cultured speaks volumes.

What is especially interesting is that students seemed to equate culture with their Ethnicity/Nationality rather than an understanding of the Arts and knowledge. Comments like "yes i am cultured as i do lots of the typical things Turkish people do" or "Yes i am cultured as i have lots of cultures that made me" 

This implies perhaps that they see culture as something that they have automatically rather than something that they can seek to actively seek out and find more of.

Q10: They all rated school highly as said before and general understanding of school role in widening their experience form things they would have in their homes and communities as a matter of course

Q11: A few relevant days including 'culture days' but again this revolved around culture as an ethnicity/ nationality type event rather than wider reading.


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