“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.