Hidden Curriculum in Education: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Defining Hidden Curriculum
  • 2:00 Addressing Hidden Curriculum
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stefani Boutelier

Stefani has a PhD in Education and is a life long learner.

You know that schools teach math, reading, and writing. But many researchers believe that schools also have a hidden curriculum. Find out what this is and why it's important to identify. Then, test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Hidden Curriculum

A hidden curriculum can be defined as the lessons that are taught informally, and usually unintentionally, in a school system. These include behaviors, perspectives, and attitudes that students pick up while they're at school. This is contrasted with the formal curriculum, such as the courses and activities students participate in.

The hidden curriculum begins early in a child's education. Students learn to form opinions and ideas about their environment and their classmates. For example, children learn 'appropriate' ways to act at school, meaning what's going to make them popular with teachers and students. They also learn what is expected of them; for example, many students pick up on the fact that year-end test scores are what really matter. These attitudes and ideas aren't taught in any formal way, but kids absorb and internalize them through natural observation and participation in classroom and social activities.

Areas of hidden curriculum in our schools that mold perspectives of students deal with issues such as gender, morals, social class, stereotypes, cultural expectations, politics, and language. Gender roles, for example, become very apparent in early grades when socializing becomes divided into boys and girls. Many books at this young age support the idea of gender separation, which, in turn, encourages these norms in early years. The importance of boys' athletics used to be a clear example of hidden curriculum, but since the passage of Title IX, many school districts have strived for a greater balance for girls' and boys' teams.

Hidden curriculum is often found within the formal curriculum of a school; this may be partially in what is not taught. For example, if an English class only assigns reading material with Caucasian main characters or with stories set in the United States, this may teach students, including English learners, that our school systems don't appreciate other cultures and languages. The influence of this can lead to a negative self-image or a hatred for reading.

Addressing the Hidden Curriculum

Many educational theorists and child development specialists dating back to the 1960s have weighed in on the controversial topic of identifying hidden curriculum and how to change it. Some of the most well-known education researchers, including John Dewey, Henry Giroux, and Paulo Freire, have been involved in the discussion. These researchers discuss how hidden curricula are usually one-sided and reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the dominant class. Their goal has been to raise the general awareness of hidden curriculum in our schools in order to make education systems progressive and accessible to students of all cultural, linguistic, and social backgrounds.

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