The Hidden Curriculum refers to the unwritten rules, values and normative patterns of behavior which students are expected to conform to and learn while in school.
Examples of things taught through the ‘hidden curriculum include:
respect for other pupils’ opinions
aspiring to achieve
having a ‘work ethic’
The Hidden Curriculum is normally contrasted to the ‘formal’ curriculum which consists of the formal programme of specific subjects and lessons which governments, exam boards and schools designs to promote the educational achievement of students.
A weakness of the concept of the ‘Hidden Curriculum’ is that most, if not all of the expected patterns of behavior are, in fact, written down and thus formally encoded in school rules, and students usually have to formally agree to them through their school’s tutorial system, so whether theses factors make up a truly ‘Hidden Curriculum’ today in school is, to my mind, questionable.
The Hidden Curriculum today is most likely to be reflected in a schools ‘ethos’ – ethos refers to the character, atmosphere, or ‘climate of the school’. This might include things like:
whether there is an emphasis on academic success, and/ or artistic or sporting achievements.
whether there is an emphasis on equal opportunities for all students – does the school focus on helping disadvantaged students, for example?
whether there is an emphasis on respect for diversity – does the school promote multiculturalism and anti-racism and sexism?
Whether the school encourages students to participate in community life.
The extent to which there is an entrepreneurial culture and strong ties with local businesses at the school.
whether parents are encouraged to get actively involved in the life of the school.
The type of learning a school encourages – whether formal, traditional ‘chalk and talk’ learning, or independent learning, for example.
Marxists sociologists Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that the main function of education in capitalist societies is the reproduction of labour power.
They see the education system as being subservient to and performing functions for the Bourgeoisie, the capitalist class who own the means of production: the Bourgeoisie require a workforce that is hardworking, accepts authority, and who won’t kick up a fuss if they are exploited, and the main function of school in capitalist societies is to indoctrinate children into these norms and values.
The education system does this through the hidden curriculum – which consists of the things pupils learn through the experience of attending school, rather than the stated education objectives in the ‘formal curriculum’.
Bowles and Gintis: the correspondence principle
The correspondence theory is the idea that the norms and values pupils learn in school correspond to the norms and values which will make it easy for future capitalist employers to exploit them at work.
Bowles and Gintis say that ‘work casts a long shadow over school’.
There are four ways in which the norms and values of school correspond to the required norms and values of work in capitalist society:
One – It helps to produce a subservient workforce of uncritical, passive and docile workers
In a study based on 237 members of the senior year of a New York high school, Bowles and Gintis found that the grades awarded related more to personality traits rather than academic ability: low grades were related to creativity, aggressiveness and independence, while higher grades were related to perseverance, consistency and punctuality.
The education system was creating an unimaginative and unquestioning workforce through rewarding such traits.
Two – encouraging an acceptance of hierarchy and authority
Schools are hierarchical organisations – pupils have little say over what they learn, or how the school day is organised, and in day to day life, pupils are expected to obey the authority of the teachers. Later on at work, workers are expected to obey the authority of managers.
Three – motivation by External Rewards
This is where pupils are taught to be motivated by the qualifications they will receive at the end of school, rather than the ‘joy of learning’ itself, while at work, workers are motivated by the wage packet at the end of the month rather than ‘the joy of working’ itself.
This is probably the most important aspect of the correspondence principle:
In Marxist theory, if people have control over it, work is actually enjoyable: many people engage in ‘work’ as part of their hobbies: if left to their own devices, people will naturally engage in work because it gives them a sense of satisfaction: as an example think of a car-fanatic who will happily spend hours putting together a car engine, or the whole car itself in his garage, or an allotment owner who will do the same when ‘growing their own’ – if people control the whole process of work, and can ‘see themselves’ in it, they will happily work, even for no pay.
However, work in capitalists societies becomes alienating and exploitative – Capitalists require workers to be like machines, working as part of a ‘production line’ for example, because this means production is more efficient and their profits are thus greater – so rather than individuals or small groups of individuals each setting up their own garages to make cars, or small scale farms growing food for a few dozen people, work becomes larger scale, organised into massive factories, and workers become part of the ‘machine’ of production, where the worker has no control, and work is repetitive and dull. In this industrial-capitalist system of work, workers have no intrinsic motivation to work, they need to be motivated externally, by wages.
Because this is such an unnatural and miserable situation, there needs to be a long process of convincing people this is normal – which is where school comes in – school is about learning to put up with boring lessons, and the motivation for this is at the end – through the qualifications.
Thus capitalism requires school to teach people to not be inquisitive, to just ‘learn what I tell you to learn’ and put up with boredom, to work hard now (study) in order to achieve the grades at the end of the year… there is no reward in education for those ‘doing their own thing’, because this is not what future employers require.
Four – the fragmentation of subjects at school
Learning at school is fragmented into different subjects, split up into maths, English, history, sciences, with lessons lasting only 45 minutes to an hour. Knowledge is thus fragmented into different academic subjects, rather than being holistic’.
This corresponds to the fragmentation of the workforce in later life – workers specialise in particular tasks in the office or the factory, without having an appreciation of the whole.
This fragmentation makes workers easier to control because they are divided, which makes it more difficult for them to unite and challenge their exploitative conditions.
Evaluations of Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle
More detailed evaluations to follow, but for now….
Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity (look it up!) seems to offer broad support for the idea that school doesn’t reward creative thinking.
However, on balance, much of this theory seems out of date – relevant maybe to the 1970s, when there were more factory jobs, but not so relevant to today’s more child-centred and entrepreneurial society.
Key statistics on education in America, and the key features of the American education system including primary, secondary and tertiary education, the national curriculum and the examinations system.
This is part of a new set of posts designed to help students assess how developed countries are in terms of some of the key indicators of development such as economics, inequality, education, health, gender equality, peacefulness and so on…
Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary Education in America
Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, with every child being entitled to a minimum of 12 years publicly funded education. Some states add on an additional year of pre-primary ‘Kindergarten) education, and the school leaving age also varies from state to state: some states allow students to leave school between 14–17 with parental permission, other states require students to stay in school until age 18.
Children attend primary school from the ages of 6-11 where they are taught basic subjects, typically in a diverse, mixed ability class, with one teacher.
Children attend secondary school from the ages of 12-17, which is subdivided into junior high-school and senior high school. Here students are typically taught in different classes for different subjects and are allowed some degree of freedom to choose ‘elective subjects’.
While there is no overarching national curriculum, education in secondary school generally consists of 2–4 years of each of science, Mathematics, English, Social sciences, Physical education; some years of a foreign language and some form of art education, as well as the usual PSHE.
Many high schools provide ‘Honors classes’ for the more academically able during the 11th or 12th grade of high school and/ or offer the International Baccalaureate (IB).
The National (And Hidden) Curriculum
While there isn’t a national curriculum in America, there are some very detailed national common core standards in subject areas such as English and Maths – so why schools aren’t told what books they should actually get students to read, or how to teach maths, the standards dictate that they must spend a certain amount of time teaching these and other subjects…. When I say detailed, they really are – the standards on English stretch to over 60 pages.
In terms of the Hidden Curriculum – 50% of schools require their students to pledge allegiance as part of their daily routine, which I guess is an attempt to enforce a sense of national identity.
If you’re American I imagine this gives you a warm glowing feeling, if you’re not you’re probably fluctuating between an uncomfortable feeling of nausea and wondering WTF this has got to do with ‘liberty’. NB note the doting parents looking on, and that YouTube is full of this sort of thing.
Differential Educational Achievement in America
The education system clearly doesn’t work for everyone equally – around 3 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 drop out of high school each year, a rate of 6.6 percent as of 2012.
Unsurprisingly, there are considerable ethnic differences in educational achievement in America, as this data from 2009 suggests: