Hidden Curriculum:

Podcast Notes

You sure that’s what they said?

How do you define the hidden curriculum ? 

It is everything that is going on other than the lessons.  By being in schools kids are affected just by being in those places. Leonard first heard the term in the late 1960’s in reference to state schools; it was a time of few progressive schools. It was the instinctive reaction to see it as nefarious.  Leonard says that the term ‘hidden curriculum’ must have originated as a negative because the idea that something is hidden implies ‘some kind of bad.’

Jason: there are aspects of the hidden curriculum that you can introduce even without being aware of it.  For example, the structure of knowledge has an idea behind it about learning and the world.  It is both a bad and a good.  It is bad if you teach without being aware of it. 

We suggest that there should be a reduced curriculum.  It gives children more freedom to realise that they are not dependent on the hokey bunch of adults who surround them.

Anyone can sit down and write a list of the features of a school and think about the aspects of the daily life of a school that are not a part of what is being taught. What do they mean? How might they impact on people in the habitat?

As an example, an honoured school founder would be a part of the hidden curriculum.  There might be a fear that the whole thing might collapse if you criticise the foundations of the school.  This is a genuine dilemma.  The question is the extent to which it is open to dialogue and investigation.

Leonard: Most people who would take the time and put in the effort to send their children to a progressive school would have been thinking about the aspects of the hidden curriculum that are positive for their children. They may not, however, be aware of negatives.  For most parents sending their children into the mainstream the hidden curriculum is generally less accessible and rarely talked about, thought about. The children are just sent as a matter of course.

We have listed many examples of the hidden curriculum in free schools in Monday’s blog. We won’t repeat too many here.

The hidden authoritarianism in state schools might be paradoxical because most teachers are liberals. This can lead to strange situations such as children lining up to go into a class re: respect, for example.   
One of the problems with some democratic free schools is that adults might have a view of human nature that reduces the responsibility of staff to intervene when they see deficits or children having difficulty.  If it is seen as natural that some kids do not learn well and others are bright, they might not feel there is much that needs to be done, let ‘nature’ take its course. We think this is not good. It is a genuine human ethical problem.  And does not disappear when you recognise that the problem exists.

But wisely leaving most children to get on with their own school lives is not abandoning them.  

Another issue might be the allocation of resources.  For example, schools that invest a lot of money in sport are offering a strong vision of the hidden curriculum.  Where a school directs money says a lot to children, parents and teachers.  If a school allows a teacher to order textbooks instead of real books that it another message that comes through.

Leonard says the first three state school hidden curriculum examples in Monday’s blog were seriously strong issues:

  • The idea that children cannot achieve anything without discipline
  • Codes of conduct that make children into rebels and conformists
  • The authoritarian structure of power in schools reflecting the authoritarian structure of power in societies.

Under democratic schools:

  • The fact that children who can read have more opportunities to exercise freedom than children who cannot.  Jason says that he would not deprive any child of the opportunity to read because the benefits of reading vastly increase that child’s access to the world and give it more freedom. At Summerhill kids who could not read had a dramatically reduced access to the formal curriculum on offer.  Most children, Leonard points out, could read.  But you might be faced with an inherently paradoxical situation.  A student who goes to your free school at a very young age and does not learn to read will be prejudiced against compared to a kid who suffers for a few years in another system but then comes to the democratic school later being very literate and so can get hold of all opportunities on offer more easily.
  • The closer student-teacher relationship can allow the teacher to be too much of an influence.  For example, students might not want to hurt a teacher’s feelings by asking for a change of some kind.  It is much more impersonal in the state system so in a way the child is protected by distance.  Another person said to Leonard that she was unhappy with the science teacher; he said she should bring it up politely in a Meeting, but the student wouldn’t because she said she would have to then sit in a class of three and would feel very uncomfortable.

    A considerable responsibility falls on the teacher to make sure the student is not inhibited by a free school student/teacher relationship.

Leonard added that the Architecture of a school forces upon children ways of moving, ways of sitting and behaving.  This is a also part of the hidden curriculum.  

Jason says it’s not just schools re hidden consequences. For example, the design of roads is a part of a socio-political hidden curriculum,
as is the design of fast food restaurants.

Jason suggests people think about their own situation and write it out.  

It is very difficult to discover the underlying ideas that motivate you.

We opened up a can of worms. You can review our complete hidden lists in Monday’s Blog.

There may be no right answers.  

The one thing that is certain is that your democratic school WILL HAVE a hidden curriculum.

It’s Important to figure out what it will be !

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