‘The Hidden Curriculum’

I was introduced to phrase ‘the hidden curriculum’ during my initial teacher training, and it refers to those things that schools teach to students implicitly through modelled behaviours and those aspects of education that are peripheral to explicit instruction in skills and knowledge.

The importance of this idea was reinforced when, some years into my teaching career, I started to explore ethics instruction and ‘Values education’. In one of the programming manuals, the point was made that ‘schools teach values, either explicitly, or implicitly’, and highlighted the point that children learn their values and ethics by mimicking and modelling peers and role models, as well as learning from the emotional experiences created by systems and structures in an organisation.

This is, arguably, the biggest impact of ‘the hidden curriculum’, and a large part of the disconnect between policy makers and educators in many countries. Consider the following:

What values and ethical lessons are being taught to students when;
– schools are quick to discipline inappropriate behaviour, but slow to reward positive behaviours (if they get rewarded at all?)
– rules like adherence to uniform or ‘out of bounds’ areas are applied inconsistently OR when those things are pursued relentlessly, but bullying is addressed inconsistently.
– low ability students are recognised and rewarded for small improvements, but higher ability students get no recognition for consistent high achievement.
– news & media run stories about how schools and teachers are responsible for poor results, but run very few stories about individuals succeeding through dedication and hard work (the story of someone achieving ‘overnight success’ is a media favourite, often ignoring the years of training and perseverance the person put into their success).

Its very easy to see how the hidden curriculum of these examples could be teaching students that individual effort just isn’t worth the, well, effort.

Also consider the lessons taught by these examples:
– newspapers make a big deal out of HSC and NAPLAN results, but seldom run stories on other activities or events in schools that feature prominently in students lives.
– schools run lots of exam preparation (sitting still, focussed behaviour, get the answer right) focussing on a narrow range of skills, and then after the exam, the results don’t come back for 6 months. Especially in primary school and junior years of high school, when students are still developing those skills.
– the government funds chaplains and religious instruction in school, but increasingly reduces funding for counsellors or learning support staff for students with significant special needs.

There’s a strong argument to be made that these factors are just as important to a students’ greater education than their academic achievements. The topic of ethical or moral instruction has been hotly contested in Australia in recent years with ethics classes in primary school and the controversies over the federally funded school chaplains program. It would seem that a resolution to that conflict is unlikely in the near future, however as the school year draws to a close today, and as the newspapers are publishing their tables of HSC results, and ongoing coverage from the U.S. recounts the horror of the Sandy Hook school shootings, its worth reflecting on the lessons that have been taught besides the subject content and skills, and the effect those lessons might have on a student’s life beyond high school.


1 Comment

Filed under Reflections and Musings

One response to “‘The Hidden Curriculum’

  1. “Its very easy to see how the hidden curriculum of these examples could be teaching students that individual effort just isn’t worth the, well, effort.” YEAH. My kid was getting to be over school by Year 3 for just these reasons. He got the message that it was simply ‘not about him’.

    Values he gets from his new school that I love:
    Learning is fun, and you can take it as far as you like, as fast as you like – there is no end point- just keep moving forward.
    Learning can happen anywhere, from many different sources – community, peers (older and younger), the old folks in nursing homes, taking time to contemplate within your own head. People are wonderfully different and their diversity means they have many different things to offer you. You have a lot to offer too.
    The best way to get the most out of life is to be a part of something you care about, that’s bigger than yourself.
    Reading – it’s awesome, do it a lot.

    Seriously, if my children can get to the end of school with those, coupled with an ongoing relationship of trust between myself and their teachers, I could do without report cards ticking off the boxes.


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