Hard to plan for ‘hidden curriculum’ in schools

NOTE: This is an assignment I wrote for my master’s degree work through Fort Hays State University. I’m sharing it here because the concept of a “hidden curriculum” was something I had never heard of or considered. Please let me know what you think of the whole thing in the comments. And if you can answer some of the questions I pose at the end of the piece, that would be cool too.

Hidden Curriculum

In light of the “hidden curriculum” (those parts of the environment that influence the experience of students but that are not accounted for our cannot be accounted for in curriculum planning), how fully must an approach to curriculum planning consider the hidden curriculum in order to provide a sound basis for making decisions about the planned curriculum? The enacted curriculum? The experienced curriculum?

Provided resources: http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Hidden_Curriculum and http://teachers.net/gazette/OCT08/page/

The notion of a hidden curriculum is something very new to me. I have never heard of it before, yet as the provided resources pointed out, the hidden curriculum has been staring me in the face from my first day of school. As a teacher, I can see how important taking the various curricula into account can be. Without considering all the facets of learning, a teacher isn’t doing the students justice because he or she is overlooking components of how his or her teaching styles and methodology are possibly of vital importance to the learning of the students. These provided resources create an excellent opportunity to evaluate curriculum on several levels. It requires one to consider how to approach curriculum planning when confronted with the hidden curriculum. This entails questions of how to make decisions about the planned, enacted and experienced curriculum in regards to the hidden curriculum. I hope to tackle such questions in this brief essay.

Before one can sparse the issue at hand, hidden curriculum has to be understood. The provided resources provide several academic takes on the matter, but in essence a hidden curriculum is what the students are taught in order to exist in the world as a whole. Such norms include, but are not limited to, respect for authority, proper behavior in society, how to follow directions, tolerance and emotional stability. All of these components of the hidden curriculum are based upon each individual teacher, at least to the extent of how they are conveyed to the class. Basically, the hidden curriculum is an extension of the teacher. Whatever he or she holds in the highest regard is what is transferred to the students. Many of these beliefs and views are universal (such as the respect for authority and proper societal behavior), but some of them are unique. This could include beliefs and views such as religious and political views and opinions on other races and cultures. These views can be obviously stated by statements made, or it could be stated more subtly through sarcasm and body language, which can also give the students cues to a wide variety of other vies and beliefs of the teacher that teach the student and are therefore a part of the hidden curriculum. This is a very complex, yet obvious, issue. So much can be taught without it being intended to be, and this is very easy to overlook because every teacher does it without realizing it.

So in light of this, how should a teacher approach the planned, or overt and official, curriculum? That is a difficult question because it would require those who write the curricula and the teachers individually to take a hard look at themselves and consider what unstated teachings they are bringing to the table. This isn’t an easy task because, for starters, it is rarely easy to conduct an honest self-analysis. If a teacher where to be asked, for example, what kind of prejudices they bring into the classroom and infect the students with, most teachers would say they don’t bring any such baggage with them because most professionals would like to think they are able to put their personal beliefs and issues aside when performing their jobs. However, this is actually more difficult than most believe it to be. Furthermore, those writing the curricula aren’t necessarily the teachers teaching it. This creates another host of problems because when the curriculum writer produces the curriculum, he or she may be making every attempt to limit the impact of the hidden curriculum, but that limiting of impact is most likely based upon the perceived hidden curriculum of the individual writing the curriculum. This means the individual traits of each teacher utilizing the curriculum won’t be taken into account, which will result in a pervasive hidden curriculum since the hidden curriculum is based upon the teacher. It is the teacher, and because of this, it is nearly impossible to standardize a way to eliminate hidden curriculum. Even so, the best way to approach the planned curriculum is simply line out what should be taught and what is intended to be taught to the students. This should be in a very generic way so it can be applied as necessary, keeping in mind each teacher utilizing the curriculum will put his or her own personality and personal nuances into it. This is really the only feasible way to approach the inherent hidden curriculum within the planned curriculum.

The enacted curriculum, which is how each teacher chooses to teach the official or planned curriculum, and the experienced curriculum, which is what the students actually come away with in the area of an education, are also affected by the hidden curriculum.  The planned curriculum ensures every student is presented with the same materials, but the enacted curriculum is the actual manner in which those materials are presented. The experienced curriculum is how the student curriculum is the most unstable variable. It is totally out of the control of the teacher because it centers on the students’ perception.  The teacher can have some control over this by how he or she enacts the curriculum, but it is largely based upon the preferences of the student. If he or she doesn’t like the teacher, doesn’t like his or her classmates, doesn’t like the subject, simply doesn’t feel comfortable in the room or a host of any other negatives, he or she will not have a positive experience with the curriculum. Conversely, if the student likes everything, he or she will have a positive experience.

It is within the enacted and experienced curriculum where the hidden curriculum has the greatest impact because those two categories of curriculum are most susceptible to influence from outside variables. The baggage the teacher brings into the classroom, which again includes biases and preconceived notions about the subject matter and students, dictates how the enacted curriculum is conveyed and sends out wave after wave of signals to the hidden curriculum receptors. For example, if an English teacher truly dislikes grammar and he or she simply teaches the subject in order for the students to pass the test, he or she is sending signals to the students via the hidden curriculum that grammar isn’t worthy of time or attention. This affects the experienced curriculum because the students come away with a disdain for grammar and no new knowledge about the subject matter.

Obviously these categories of curriculum are very closely tied together, and it would be an act of futility to fully separate them.  One should not fool himself into believing the hidden and the many other types of curriculum can be effectively dealt with in the planning process. There are simply too many variables that the one planning the curricula cannot control. The students and individual teachers bring so much of their own personalities into the equation that it is nearly impossible to expressly plan for the hidden curriculum. Therefore, the only way to deal with it is to simply recognize it is going to occur and move on. Teachers need to also be aware of it and do whatever they can to mitigate the impact, possibly by giving oral disclaimers when they venture out onto a tangent about their personal beliefs, and simply do the best they can to the students they have. This may mean developing multiple teaching strategies and methods based upon the students in each class. Doing so would mean more work for the teacher, but it would help keep the students and teacher himself on their toes, which would reduce the impact of the hidden curriculum upon the other categories of curriculum.

On a personal note, this assignment and the provided resources made me really think about what I’m doing as a teacher. Are my students actually engaged in my subject matter, or have they simply learned how to appear to be engaged? Is our educational system actually teaching anything to our students except how to exist in society? Are we basically turning our students into masters of manipulation who can adapt to whatever situation in order to get by and advance themselves? It sure seems like it. I could continue to explore these thoughts with thousands more words, but it isn’t the right time, not within the confines of this assignment. I will, however, continue to ponder such questions on my own because it seems our education system may be more flawed than I previously thought.

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About toddvogts 843 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.


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