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What Is a Hidden Curriculum?

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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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“Hidden curriculum” is a term used to describe things that are conveyed to students without ever being explicitly taught. Most of the time, it concerns educational concepts like ideologies and ways to approach certain problems. It can also cover more nuanced social rules and cultural parameters. Teachers and others in authority do not formally agree to the terms of a hidden curriculum, but rather convey its central messages by modeling different behaviors and passively elevating certain ideas over others.

Difference From Standard Curriculum

Schools around the world depend on set lesson plans and learning objectives to guide teaching and ensure that all students come away with the same basic knowledge. These hard-and-fast objectives are usually written down and widely distributed; taken collectively, they are known as the school’s curriculum. A hidden curriculum is fundamentally different in that it is never actually expressed out loud or agreed to. It is not necessarily the same from school to school, or even from classroom to classroom.

Social Cues

Especially with younger children, the hidden curriculum is often discussed in terms of social cues and particular mannerisms. For example, the fact that children understand classroom order, know to wait their turn, and understand the difference between playground-appropriate language and classroom-appropriate language are all often factors of passively communicated cues from authority figures. In this context, the hidden curriculum is made up of things that kids just pick up on that were never actually taught.

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School-Endorsed Messages

A hidden curriculum may also encompass more overt messages about things like political views, the definition of success, and citizenship. These sorts of messages are often conveyed through a teacher’s tone or reading selection, though it may also come across through artwork displayed in school halls, music played over the intercom, or school events and guest speakers.

Messages about student achievement are often among the most poignant. A school with a strong focus on academics may fail to value students who are less academically inclined, for instance, creating a layered social and academic structure that devalues some students. This focus might indirectly teach academically successful students to discriminate against people who show less intelligence. Similarly, certain departments may be better funded than others, sending the message that some activities are more important; this can create caste or clique structures within schools.

Cues Taken From Surroundings

Environmental signals also factor in. A student attending a poorly funded school in a decaying building who lacks access to proper materials may get a mixed message if the school’s official curriculum stresses the value of each student. To be told via instructional methods and faculty support that a person is valuable when all evidence of how that person is cared for within the school is to the contrary can affect a student’s ability to be optimistic, to trust authorities, or to build self-esteem.

Standardized Tests

Another type of hidden curriculum occurs in standardized testing, a practice based on the assumption that all students share the same core knowledge. Standardized tests have occasionally been accused of being discriminatory against certain racial or ethnic groups on the basis that they contain questions that presume knowledge certain students simply don’t possess on account of their background. Schools requiring these tests are sometimes said to have a hidden curriculum that gives preferential treatment to those in more privileged classes.

Career Tracking

To a certain extent, career “tracking” and subtle signals about student aptitude for specific professions can come under the umbrella of hidden curriculum, too. This includes gender biases in fields like the sciences and math, and presumptions that students with certain skills or interests — in the arts, say, or literature — are somehow “unsuited” for careers in more intellectually rigorous disciplines. Most of this bias is conveyed through subtle comments, cultural presuppositions, and the ways in which teachers give help or encourage students in certain directions.

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Discuss this Article

icecream17
Post 3

Comfyshoes -I totally agree. You don’t have to go very far to see examples of a hidden curriculum in today’s public school.

I remember at the beginning of Obama’s administration there was even an attempt to indoctrinate our school children very much like they do in communist countries.

The Obama administration asked school children to write an essay on how to help Obama reach his political goals.

One school in Burlington New Jersey even developed a song chanting his praises. The first verse read,“ Barack Hussein Obama, He said that all must lend a hand to make this country strong again” was sung a B. Bernice Elementary School.

This was a disgraceful attempt at indoctrination and developing the hidden curriculum in today’s public schools.

There was even an inference that this country is insensitive to the less fortunate which could not be further from the truth.

The United States has always been one of the most, if not the most charitable nations on earth.

comfyshoes
Post 2

Subway11 - I believe that he has a point. For example, the schools teaching evolution as the only theory in their science curriculum although 70% of families believe in intelligent design and creationism is not right.

The exclusion of an alternative point of view, especially one so well received as this one really points out the hidden curriculum of the school system.

This is not all; some schools go as far as teaching curriculum on how to use a condom in the sixth grade as a part of their sex education curriculum. Again this curriculum may be against parent’s religious and moral beliefs but the curriculum is taught anyway despite the fact that most parents are against it.

It seems that the political leanings of the school system supersede those of concerned parents. Gatto is right there is no sense of community in the school systems because of the fact that schools are making parents more irrelevant.

This is why I choose to keep my children in private school because in private school if the parent’s object to something in the school it usually gets resolved rather quickly.

Because parents are paying tuition their voices are heard more in a private school than in a public school. There seems to be a hidden curriculum regarding sociology in our public schools today that is taught from one point of view.

subway11
Post 1

In, “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Agenda in Compulsory Education” John Gatto an award winning New York City teacher with twenty five years experience writes that the public school system robs our children of individuality and takes away from families.

He felt that the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling is to teach students to be uniform and be devoid of original thought. He added that schools need to represent true communities that include families in order to strengthen a child’s education.

Instead he feels that public schools offer a conditioning that does not allow original thought because everything is based on the output of standardize testing measures.

He actually feels that there should be less emphasis on increasing these measures of extending the school day or provide schooling in the summer.

He feels that because the public school system is so bad for our children he totally understands why the homeschool movement has grown as quickly as it has because with homeschooling children enjoy a quality education because the parents are focusing on their needs.

He adds that the family component is necessary in the school system in order to build a foundation for a thriving educational community.

Gatto feels that the public schools are making the parents less relevant which further deteriorate the sense of community that the school needs.

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