Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Hidden Curriculum

I've read plenty of anti-school stuff, plenty of essays by John Taylor Gatto, and I've always believed what he said to be true.  But it's an entirely different thing to see (read) it for myself! 

We pick up a LOT of books from a variety of places.  Often free or very cheap.  So we have a lot of different books, on a huge amount of subjects, scattered around our house.  One that I picked up recently, just out of curiousity, is called the Sociology of Education: An Introductory View From Canada.  It's a university text.  Something future teachers might read in one of their classes.  And this is what it says under the section The Hidden Curriculum, in the chapter entitled School as an Informal System of Socialization:
"The fundamental patterns in any society are held together by tacit ideological assumptions.  In schools, some rules are not overt, but they serve to organize and legitimate the activities of teachers and students.  Much of what the school teaches and the students learn does not appear in the formal curriculum.  Successful school performance requires that the student learn what are considered important and useful skills and knowledge.  But students must also have the skills to uncover the hidden rules and expectations that affect their dispositions, identities, and personalities.  For example, schools emphasize conformity, deferred gratification, achievement, competitiveness, and obedience to authority.  Students must understand the social and other dimensions of this hidden curriculum.  The hidden curriculum refers to the tacit teaching of norms, values, and dispositions that occurs through students social experiences in routine school activities."
Isn't that interesting?  I certainly think so.  Often, when I make a comment about schools teaching conformity, or obedience to authority, I'm told it's not *really* like that.  That I've gotten it wrong.  But really, if even teachers in training are taught that this is so, I think it's probably pretty damn accurate!



  1. Strange... I wrote about school in a blog post today too. :-)

    That's so incredible to see it written out like that! A lot of us have been saying things like that all along... and there it is. Good discovery!

  2. "schools emphasize conformity" ... amazing to see someone actually copped to it and put it in print! Wow!

  3. Wow, plain as day. While conformity at-will, in order to reach a goal or impress someone is actually a good social skill (when asking for a raise, dining with the Queen, or in a courtroom) forcing conformity upon small children, as a way of life, is quite disgusting.

  4. Thank you for posting this. It is nice to actually see it admitted to and in print.
    I agree with what Lisa said above. Very well put.

  5. Daaayum it hurts to read this blog and be a schooler. You know that, right? You don't hate us, do you?

  6. @Primavera: Aww. Hell, I definitely don't hate schoolers! To me that would be as ridiculous as hating everyone who lives under a government because I'm an anarchist! Plus, I just know too many cool peeps who go to school. :-)

  7. illich deschooling society
    lots to read at

  8. that's a great quote, really sum it up, and people learn that bit of the curriculum much more effectively than the more obvious bits
    thanks for sharing

  9. I go to public school; that idea isn't a big secret. I learned that schools indoctrinate kids into social norms in three of my high school classes: social sciences, psychology, and the study of government. Part of my school's mission statement it to teach students too function well within society and be good citizens. I think that implies being conformists on some level. It's not as insidious as you make it sound. XD I think most parents want their kids to conform, because our society is structured ostracise those who are different. It's more like a problem for all of society, not just schools.

    It's also notable that tiered classes, like where there's AP, honors, normal, and remedial, are often taught differently. More advanced classes concentrate on critical thinking and individual work to prepare students for managerial positions. There's much less emphasis on conformity and obedience in honors classes, IMO. Normal classes concentrate on group activities and following directions like you'd need from followers or lower-level workers.

  10. @coffeedisciple: Well, it's great that you learned that in school, but from the many times I've had schooled kids react with shock & defensiveness when I say that, it seems for many people it IS a big secret! :-P And though I agree that it's a problem with society, I believe it's a problem largely perpetuated by schools.

    My experience with how "tiered" classes work seems different from yours... If anything, it's seemed from my experience that kids in "advanced" classes are even LESS likely to question the schooling institution, or to notice the "hidden curriculum".

    By the way, in terms of me "making it sound so insidious", the words Hidden Curriculum are taken directly from the book! ;-)

    Anyway, thanks for your comment!

  11. Thanks for responding, Idzie! Your blog's really interesting, and I've been reading it for a while. We're the same age. =)

    Anyway, you'd think they'd come up with a less creepy-sounding name than "Hidden Curriculum." XD It's good you posted the passage from the book, because most people probably don't think about the more subtle lessons of school. I just wanted to point out that teachers weren't specifically keeping it away from students. Your right; schools do perpetuate conformity in society.

    I take advanced classes, so that's probably just my own bias. It's only an opinion from a pretty limited sample of people. My classes have gotten progressively less focussed on obedience as I've gotten older. Questioning the institution probably has nothing to do with classes taken, just influences that counter that of the hidden curriculum. Since school is ingrained in culture, people probably just want to defend it from anything that sounds negative. But, yes, all schools encourage conformity and obedience. It's really sad that sometimes it's is more about behavior than learning.

    Sorry if I came across as defensive before. I just wanted to share my own school experience on this topic.

  12. I'm stranded in New York at the moment due to a volcanic ash-cloud...and so I've managed to make a few extra visits to the Manhattan Free School! It's a growing educational community with some great people and great promise. I think you should come down here and volunteer to do some'd really enjoy it.


  13. I am a parent of three conventionally schooled kids, and I can confirm that it *is* really like that, and all the more so now that the jobs of the teachers and principals increasingly depend on raising standardized test scores. A few examples here, here, and here.

    I just discovered your blog and am enjoying it, will be checking back.

  14. As a homeschooling mom, graduate student in education, and recent substitute teacher in a public school, I too can attest to the fact that there is not only a hidden curriculum (that which is implicitly taught or taught through social or moral cues)but also a null curriculum (that which does not exist) in public schools. What we have to remember (as homeschoolers, unschoolers, or private schoolers) is that there are hidden and null curriculum at play in our arenas as well...they are not only tied to public education.

  15. School has long been regarded as a 'conforming machine', I don't think that is a secret and I agree with coffeedisciple there. As a teacher now, who regularly truanted from school and left, then returned, I now see school as holding the keys to liberation from poverty particularly for women. As a teacher, you do need students to conform to expectations, such as being quiet during class and doing their homework. Living defiantly outside the boundaries of a 'normal' lifestyle, does lead to suffering. I now regard being normal and taking the middle path - the buddhist concept - as the best way to achieve happiness. By the way, I am an English teacher, where we are always looking at concepts of gender inequity, racism, and other forms of marginalisation, and we always encourage students to think for themselves. In a way we are teaching them to think to the left, something we have been imputed with by right wing politicians in this country.