Have you ever come across the term ‘hidden curriculum’? Obviously, it’s a curriculum, which exists. However, it’s not seen. It’s hidden. The actual curriculum any school has – and lots of homeschools, too – is a transparent document, which summarizes what students should have learnt by the end of a specific learning period. It refers to knowledge, skills, or competencies. Example:
The Rhode Island (USA) official state’s website summarizes here, that a “Curriculum is a standards-based sequence of planned experiences where students practice and achieve proficiency in content and applied learning skills. Curriculum is the central guide for all educators as to what is essential for teaching and learning … Curriculum must include the necessary goals, methods, materials and assessments to effectively support instruction and learning”. This abriviated definition reflects a general understanding of what a curriculum is and what teachers around the world would agree upon.
Any curriculum is “standard-based”. Therefore, the next question is to what kind of standards it refers. One answer is that standards are set in a Common Core by the educators in charge of a nation’s educational direction. Interestingly enough, sometimes nations don’t have a Common Core, or only certain regions of a nation have an agreed-upon regional Common Core like it is the case in the U.S. Some states in the Federation do have a Common Core, while others don’t. However, there are also curricula, which are created independently of common standards. In such cases, it’s recommendable to double check on the trustworthiness of the original source.
Defining the term
The understanding of a ‘curriculum’ leads to characteristics of a ‘hidden curriculum’. It must be standard-based since it is a curriculum and as such falls into the same category as ‘normal’ curricula. In addition, these standards must have been defined by someone earlier on since the mere existence of standards allows for the conclusion that there is someone behind the set-up.
The Glossary of Education Reform defines a hidden curriculum here as “the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school”. These lessons and values are embodied in a school’s culture and transmitted by the people present who individually reflect those values and teach those lessons.
I’ve refered to the goals of a curriculum in another post here. Please, check back to get a broader understanding of the whole idea. It’s based on the assumption that education is to prepare a person for various challenges in life. There are diverse approaches defining the final goal of formal or any education. An easy understanding of such goal can be summed up in what a person
- Does (Behaviour);
- Knows (Thinking);
- Is (Attitudes).
With the hidden curriculum the inherent goals are pretty much based on the same areas of development in a personality. In the same Glossary mentioned above it’s also said that the “hidden-curriculum concept is based on the recognition that students absorb lessons in school that may or may not be part of the formal course of study—for example,
- how they should interact with peers, teachers, and other adults;
- how they should perceive different races, groups, or classes of people; or
- what ideas and behaviors are considered acceptable or unacceptable.
The hidden curriculum is described as ‘hidden’ because it is usually unacknowledged or unexamined by students, educators, and the wider community. And because the values and lessons reinforced by the hidden curriculum are often the accepted status quo, it may be assumed that these “hidden” practices and messages don’t need to change—even if they are contributing to undesirable behaviors and results, whether it’s bullying, conflicts, or low graduation and college-enrollment rates, for example.”
Behind the set-up of a ‘hidden curriculum’ oftentimes, there is a whole culture within an educational institution, and that culture is created by the people who form part of the institution. And the culture is actually what outsiders to the system may detect in contrast to insiders of the system who – more than often – won’t be aware that they’re teaching the kids something beyond the official curriculum. They are teaching the kids the character of their culture, too.
How to detect it?
The values that are transmitted by an institutional culture are always taught alongside the official curriculum. You detect them by looking at what you SEE in that institution and this is what helps you come to grips about the hidden curriculum. Do you see
- a clean or dirty school;
- beauty or neglect in decoration, facilities, equipment;
- small groups or crowds being taught at once;
- independent thinkers or dependent students;
- freedom of speech or pre-defined opinion;
- consistent staffing or frequent teachers’ turnaround;
- excellence expectations in degrees;
- practise or failure of good preparation towards degrees;
- racial or social mix, or homogenious studentship;
- respect & greeting towards teachers or ignorance;
- polite or unfriendly behaviour;
- smiles or fights.
What to do With a Hidden Curriculum Context
As said before, any homeschool or formal school setting has a hidden culture that it teaches. Acknowledge it and ask yourself if you like what you see. It’s good to trust your own instincts even though you’re not able to name what you see. You may ask yourself questions like: Do I like what I see in my homeschool, the ‘fruit’ if you will. Do I like what I see my kids doing at school, how they’re reacting, their eagerness to study or failure of presence of aptitude and so on. Whatever it is you see – for good or bad – try to find out what hidden values and expectations result in such a visible culture.
How do you find hidden values, expectations, challenges? You need to come up with profound questions and then, answering them. Then you’d be able to work with the answers for a better hidden curriculum in your homeschool or your kid’s school. What questions are good ones to ask yourself for a homeschool? Suggestions:
- How do my kids react when getting back to class to study diligently? If well, why is that? Is it because of good routines, interesting topics, …
- What behaviour do I see in my kids – towards me as mother or teacher, their sibbling, neighbors, strangers? Do I like it or not so much? What is the reasons behind the behavior and how may I change it for the better?
- Are there any values or attitudes I’m teaching my kids without being aware – good or bad ones?
- Are you teaching and don’t mind your kids responding in a certain way – does it however matter in the result?
- Do you insist in a clear handwriting, orderly workplace, timely start? Or do you prefer spontaneousity?
- Do you like to having your kids take assessments on a regular basis or do you check them off only in the last week of the scholarly season? Both approaches are there – just be aware that you might be teaching different values: learning to the test (rather likely with once-an-occasion test) or studying for the sake of knowledge increase (rather likely with smaller but frequent assessments).
- Do you focus on cognitive sujects more than on physical or artistic subjects – or the other way around?
- What are the values of the past (tradition) your parents transmitted to you: intellectual excellence, physical power or artistic genious? Maybe you’d like to have those areas more balanced out?
- What is it that YOU want your child working on? Group ~, individual ~ , digital ~, or physical material? What approach do you prefer?
- Is it constructivist-based learning, based on preference, learning to standards, or unschooling?
- Do you plan to profile the ideal? This idea is prevalent in competency-based education. And so many more questions…
Whatever you’re doing – try to diligently examine what you see, conclude the right questions from that and take your decisions to adjust your homeschool or your kid’s education in any formal setting in the sphere of your influence. Just know as much as possible what you’d like to reinforce. Be aware that NOT doing anything is as much doing something with your kids.