reorienting the hidden curriculum

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The hidden curriculum as a concept was a good starting point, but it's also a dead end. The value is in what it is looking at, and the constraint is how it does that. The hidden curriculum refers to the various things that students learn in school that are not part of the formal or explicit curricula. The idea is almost always presented in a negative or critical light, stressing the way in which tacit aspects of the schooling experience serve to condition students into accepting the status quo and internalizing hegemonic structures. 

The important revelation in this idea is that there is a lot being learned in school which is not directly linked to teacher talk and textbooks. The hidden curriculum was called hidden because it is not always easy to spot. It exists somewhere beneath the surface of what we are used to paying attention to in classrooms. It relates to the assumptions we internalize, and these assumptions are integrated into the fabric of our conscious thought--making them quite transparent. But in the end, applying the term "hidden" is a bit silly when we are talking about something we have just found.

The term "hidden" actually frames the construct with an implicit constraint. It implies that it is something which is destined to remain out of sight or at best unclear. This is inherently limiting. It serves to preempt serious efforts at doing something about the problems the term helped to identify. Over the years, a number of other terms have been proposed. Among them, the informal curriculum and the tacit curriculum. These terms are more constructive. They take us a step closer to a useful understanding of the thing behind the curtains. But they too are limiting. 

While an informal or tacit curriculum is something that we can imagine ourselves investigating seriously, there is still a problem, because of our concept of curriculum. A curriculum refers to the thing which is taught and learned. Curricula can be used for planning, but in the case of hidden curricla, the term is only ever used forensically. The tacit or informal or hidden curriculum is often described as something that is learned but not taught. 

Learned but not taught. If we keep pulling at this we eventually arrive at a problem with our understanding of what teaching is. While teaching practices have evolved considerably over the last few decades, and in spite of an almost complete shift towards student cantered approaches in educational theory and research in many countries, the idea of teaching in its colloquial usage remains tied to the notion of transmission, or at best coaching. While the concept is no longer directly linked to the idea of lectures, it remains tethered in our grammar structures to the idea that a subject (the teacher) is acting upon an object (the student), or at best one subject (the teacher) is lobbing objects (the content) to another subject (the student). Based on this notion of teaching that most of us internalized at an early age, there really is no way out of the pickle of the hidden curriculum. Learned but not taught. 

But there is a way out. We just haven't really been paying attention. There are a bunch of scholars who have sought to push the boundaries of our concept of teaching over the last couple of centuries. Some of their ideas have even caught on. There are a ton of Montessori schools around, and her work in particular really put a heavy emphasis on the preparation of the environment for learning, and not just in functional terms to aid instruction or make things comfortable. She really highlighted the importance of the children's interaction in and with the environment as being core learning. Maybe Italian just has better grammar. Despite the proliferation of Montessori's ideas and Montessori schools, the idea just hasn't caught on that the preparation of the environment is part of the teaching act. It's something that teachers do so that they can teach. 

We are used to the idea that everything is political. Well, everything is also educative. In what it embodies and represents, in what it does donor doesn't do, everything is packed with messages about our values and priorities. Critical education scholars have over the past few decades dropped some hints along the same lines. When they point to "sources" of the hidden curriculum, they list out, haphazardly, aspects of the educational context.. Policies here, routines there, social factors, physical factors, testing, discipline systems, peer pressure, and so on. They go so far as to say that the impact of the hidden curriculum is more powerful and lasting than that of formal curricula. Basically, the understandings are all there already. They just haven't been linked up very well. And why should they be, because these these are not part of teaching. They're context, background. 

A long time ago I read The Analects. I don't remember much of it, but one thing stuck with me.. Something around the importance of rectifying the names. Words give us power over things. When we can name something correctly we can control it. So, to get us out of the hidden curriculum pickle, two less familiar terms are worth discussing. The first is the educative context. We often talk about educational contexts, but the meaning of that is ambiguous. Is the context itself educational meaning resulting in learning, or is it just background, the context in which learning takes place. The term educative, on the other hand, is unequivocal. The context is clearly identified as a source of learning. Of course, if it can be educative it can also be mis-educative. This is e accusation of the so called hidden curriculum. The educative context construct gives us a useful perspective which the hidden curriculum does not. It lays the ground for the second useful term, tacit teaching. This idea gets us around the problem of how we understand the concept of teaching. The idea that something can be taught tacitly pushes us to consider that teaching can occur without words, and we come to the idea of role modelling, and so on. 

The two constructs have a relationship. Whereas conventional teaching takes place through teacher talk and textbooks, tacit teaching occurs through the educative context. If we allow them, this pair of concepts can serve to expand our concept of teaching to include the preparation of the environment as Montessori would have had it, and actually far further to encompass teachers' interventions or non-interventions  in all other factors which affect children's daily experiences in school. It's all conditioning students, it's all political, it's all either educative or mis-educative. Once we have this awareness, it becomes a question of how intentional teachers are ready to be about things, or whether they are just as happy to leave socialization to the status quo.