The Hidden Curriculum

In my response to our tour of School x the other day, I’d like to focus on the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum is made up of the lessons that children are taught not through the formal content of the lessons, but instead through the unspoken and unspoken rules and expectations that underlie daily life in the school and its classrooms. For instance, as described in the reading by Good and Brophy, teachers may have different behavioral and academic expectations for students based on certain prejudices associated with students’ clothing, sex and gender, race, etc. Similarly, as described in the Anyon article, teachers may allow students varying degrees of intellectual freedom based on the socio-economic class of their students’ parents. The hidden curriculum can also include things such as the architecture of the buildings, the nature of the displays on the walls, discipline policies, etc.

Much of what the students learn at School x is conveyed through the hidden curriculum. While some of the teachers (such as Ms. X) may try to be positive and encouraging to their students, I wonder how effective this can be given the hidden curriculum of the school itself. Also, despite Ms. X’s obvious affection, hard work, and efforts to promote the academic achievement of her students, I think there are certain lessons and beliefs she communicates to her students that might impact their academic performance.

Did you see anything at School x and in her behavior that could be considered part of the hidden curriculum? If so, how might these things affect the students now and in their future as civic beings in a democratic society?

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This post was written by Heather Voke on September 15, 2007

10 Comments so far

  1. schultheish September 15, 2007 4:12 pm

    As we walked through the hallways at Ballou, I couldn’t help but think that there are certain informal or non-academic “lessons” that are conveyed by school administrators, teachers, and the very character of the school and the student body. “Hidden cirriculum” is the very term to describe these lessons – they are lessons about bahavior expectations, academic expectations, assumptions about students’ home life and tendencies, etc. For instance, while we were there I saw two girls who both looked to be more than six months pregnant, standing in the hallways, doing nothing. Then when we met the principal, she nicely introduced herself but was also quick to point that the only reason she had found us was because she thought we were a group of rowdy, misbehaving students skipping class and sitting in the band room. Then in Mrs. Iverson’s room, there were more hidden cirriculum lessons such as the drawings on the chalkboard that said “this is our gang.”

    What I’m getting at is that there are some certain things that are just kind of “understood” at Ballou, such as that some of the girls will get pregnant and continue going to class because they have nowhere else to go. There’s also an understanding that most of the student body wants to wander the halls and skip class and that they need to be heavily monitored in order to prevent this. This impacts the teacher-studnent relationship because rather than looking to teachers as educators and friends, students learn that teachers are disciplinarians and are looking to punish them for bad behavior. The drawing in Mrs. Iverson’s room reinforces the idea that many students are in gangs or want to be in gangs, and although she’s trying to make her own “gang” and promote learning, this still reinforces the connection between Ballou students and gangs, which is ultimately negative.

    I should add that I can see how these pieces of “hidden cirriculum” are hard to avoid, given that Ballou used to have such a terrible reputation and things are still obviously in bad shape there. I also credit teachers and administrators like Mrs. Iverson and the principal for trying to relate to students, as well as anticipate their bahavior so as to prevent problems. But the “hidden cirriculum” at Ballou undoubtedly contributes to poor behavior, poor grades and problematic situations. In addition to more funding, more tutoring and academic assistance for students and facility upgrades, the hidden cirriculum at Ballou will have to change before progress will be made.

  2. goodeh September 16, 2007 5:45 pm

    I agree that there is a “hidden curiculum.” I agree that it teaches non-academic lessons such as behavior expectations and assumptions. But I also beleive that the “hidden curriculum” teaches many of the valuable “survival skills” that we have discussed in class.
    When we read about Cedric struggling at Ballou, I felt that he was struggling not only for his physical survival (like eating extra at lunch because he knew he wasn’t getting dinner) but also his academic survival – ensuring that he would stay focused and that his academic integrity would not be compromised.
    While we were sitting in Ms. Iverson’s classroom, I was struck by the amount of students that came in to hide their textbooks under her desk because Ballou doesn’t give them lockers.
    These students have found a way to get by when confronted with a lack of resources, much the same way Cedric knew to eat a lot when he had it, because he didn’t know if it would be there later.
    I am sure that Ms. Iverson doesn’t advertise the fact that her room can double as a giant storage space. Had we asked, I bet she would have told us that those students came and asked her to help them out.
    They have learned via the “hidden curriculum” how to sustain their academic life.

  3. harrisonj September 16, 2007 5:59 pm

    Having only ever entered public school facilities a handful of times in my life, I found myself focusing most on the physical space while we were in Ballou. Though I did not connect these two ideas at the time, even the physical infrastructure seems to feed into these unspoken social boundaries and the “hidden curriculum.” When a student sees that s/he is not provided with a well maintained school, it seems likely that this could directly affect the student’s sense of self-worth as they are likely to internalize the idea that they actually might not deserve such a space, further playing into Anyon’s idea that their years in school teach the lessons of compalcency and staying in one’s place.

    It was an interesting contrast to see Ms. Iverson’s room, which was decorated with intellectually stimulating materials from other countries (especially Japan, which might not be a culture a lot of the kids are otherwise exposed to) and drawings on the board that clearly show that the room could be an area where kids can express themselves creatively as well as academicaly.

  4. heathervoke September 16, 2007 6:54 pm

    A few things I noticed, some good, some not so good:

    On the negative side:
    The empty trophy cases. Ms. Iverson said the students had won lots of trophies and she wondered why they weren’t being displayed. I wonder too.

    The metal-detectors are always a shock as are the bars over all the windows. The very few tables in cafeteria for the incredible number of students who must stay in there during their lunch period.

    The attention to behavior-management rather than academics. I didn’t hear or see much at all about learning; a lot of what I heard and saw was about having the right kind of attitudes and good behavior.

    The comment by Mis. Iverson about how families pretend their kids have special education and try to get them into special education programs in order to get money. This is in sharp contrast to more well-to-do communities in which some parents fight to get their children into gifted education programs and the special resources that come with them when there is no indication that their children are in fact gifted.

    In most of the classrooms I was able to look into, students were either reading textbooks or filling out photocopied worksheets rather than engaging in discussion or other forms of active learning that require higher-order thinking.

    On the positive side:
    The colorful murals, new paint, motivational posters in the halls, and freshly planted flowers outside the front doors. I know there was a community school beautification day recently in which people came into the schools to do some non-costly improvements. While these improvements are superficial, they do have a significant impact on the feel of a school and seem like they could have a big influence on the students’ attitudes about the school environment. They also signal to them that the community cares about them and their education.

    People greeted one another by name as they passed in the hallways. It was definitely a community, not a gathering of anonymous individuals. The kids were known by the teachers and administrators and had a lot of friendly-seeming interactions. Even the one scene in which a student was being summoned for discipline by an administrator looked like an interaction where the two knew one another well and were used to kidding around in a casual kind of way.

    The science lab I saw seemed fairly well-equipped. It had microscopes sitting out on the lab tables, for example.

    Ms. Iverson’s incredibly upbeat attitude. She knows the problems, she gets frustrated but she keeps coming back because she believes in what she does. She’s a charismatic, caring, and knowledgeable teacher. And she’s made the choice to work as a teacher, even though she could have a position in a more financially rewarding profession.

    The welcoming attitude of the administration. They were very polite and positive about our involvement. This is a big change from last year! I don’t know how deep this welcome goes, though, or what they think about us being there.

  5. kestenb September 18, 2007 12:12 am

    I have a lot of mixed feelings after our trip to Ballou. It was interesting to see the contrasting physical features – there were computers, there was a band, there were beautiful and motivational murals and quotes all around the walls. There were also few windows, bars over the windows, low ceilings, poor cafeteria facilities, there was that one room with bare plumbing and other dangerous looking things.

    As far as the hidden curriculum, I think to a certain extent that is planned, but it is also a result of the expectations placed upon teachers by administrators, and the level of preparedness students have entering into public education in Kindergarten, as well as throughout their education. Students in the working class environment are less likely to be read to and nurtured academically and intellectually by their parents because their parents don’t have time due to work, because they weren’t taught by their parents as children, or a combination of both. I think this combines with the heightened emphasis of drills and test scores in working class, under performing schools to cause teachers to feel like they don’t have time to indulge in abstract projects or activities or spending time nurturing the expression of thoughts and feelings. The middle and upper class schools are able to devote more time to those things because many students have mastered many of the basics, and often have complete understanding, whereas many students in working class school often have an incomplete knowledge of what they learn – they don’t know why they learned it, what it applies to, and how to build on top of that knowledge.

    Overall, lots of work to do.

  6. harfouchem September 18, 2007 3:15 am

    My first impression of Ms. Iverson was a very good one. She seemed energetic, knowledgeable, funky and confident. Although the last trait has probably come from teaching students at Ballou for many years. After the question and answer period, I got a deeper sense of her thoughts on Ballou. She obviously has a strong connection with the students (many of them walked into her class almost like they owned it, and used her desk space for as their lockers until they were assigned ones) and seems to appreciate them. However, I am interested in seeing if she treats them similarly to how the kids in the working class schools were treated by their teachers. Are they seen as creative, thinking and logical students or simply little children who memorize facts?

    I also got a sense of her frustration at DCPS. She mentioned numerous times the activities that kids missed out on, such as various extracurriculars or foreign language instruction. This frustration seemed to be at the point of resignation, because although she expressed interest in the changes going on in DCPS, she seemed not as enthusiastic about the potential for progress. I think it is too early to judge whether she fits in the categories of teachers defined in the selection by Good and Brophy and what impact she has on her students. However, by accepting a project like this one for her class shows how desirous she is of new teaching and learning methods.

    The selection itself was very thought-provoking because it made me look back on my own public school education. As a student in a middle to upper-class neighborhood for 12 years, I thought my education had been proper and satisfactory. Learning about the activities done in the elite and upper-class schools, however, was highly disturbing because I recognized how little of a focus there was in my schooling on active learning. There was little room for exploration and development of passions and interests, one of the main contributors to success in college (in my opinion). I find it hard to make generalizations from the selection of schools presented, simply because there are a lot of similarities between my public high school and some of the working-class schools. Undeniably, the teaching system is more robotic and stringent in areas of lower socioeconomic status, but how this comes about I am not sure. It is probably aggravated by a crumbling public school system, fluctuating student attendance rate, limited funds and a different philosophy of the management team. It seems to me that learning in upper class schools is much more conducive to future success and current individual growth.

  7. JR Fujimoto September 18, 2007 7:40 am

    While reading the “Hidden Curriculum” piece I questioned my own views on teaching ninth grade science to McKinley Tech HS students in NE DC.

    I realized that before I read the article indicating that McKinley was one of the best DC public high schools, I took the view that Ms. Iverson did with her students: “They have it hard enough as it is without the resources to perform or the background. Why should I make life harder for them by challenging them?” I noticed that I didn’t want to challenge my students. I didn’t want to make their life any harder than it already was. I got a sense from Ms. Iverson that she feels the same way when it comes to teaching her students. While she did say that if a student decides to sleep through her entire class she will fail him or her, I’m not quite convinced that she will challenge her students *enough*–pushing them to their utmost academic limits.

    Knowing now what I do now about McKinley–the fact that these students do have the resources that they need to perform well both in school and outside of school–I decided to raise the bar for the material that I teach and how I teach it. I never realized though, that I was lowering this bar beforehand. Something Ms. Iverson may not realize herself.

    It is this active decision to either lower standards or raise them that I think separates the working class school from the elite executive schools Anyon talks about in the “Hidden Curriculum” article. Those teachers in working class schools may decide to teach rote memorization or principles because this is, in their view, the easiest way to convey the material. “Just do this, because you’ll get the right answer.” More directive, less thinking and as a result less stress and hard work.

    I never truly realized though that this method of teaching only serves to harm these students even further. If I thought that they had it hard enough already, life would only become harder if they were trained not to think for themselves. I think it is this mentality among many teachers (and possibly administrators) at Ballou that may affect how they teach and interact with students that is part of the hidden curriculum and may ultimately harm Ballou students, more than make life easier for them.

  8. hauspurgn September 19, 2007 1:16 am

    At Ballou, the teachers as well as the environment communicate expectations to the students. In the Good and Brophy article, the authors assert that beliefs and expectations determine behavior, which in turn impacts peoples’ responses to that behavior (Good and Brophy 75, 78). In a larger sense, the instructors as well as the place of instruction are important elements of the “hidden curriculum” or the “complex but not readily apparent connections between everyday activity in schools and classrooms and the unequal structure of economic relationships in which we work and live” (Anyon 12). The “hidden curriculum” at Ballou – consisting mainly of expectations conveyed through teachers and the school environment–is not an entirely negative construct, yet undoubtedly impacts the future of students in their role as civic beings in a democratic society.

    Ms. Iverson, and teachers as well as administrators at Ballou, play an integral role in determining the life direction of their students. As several classmates before have mentioned in the blogs above, Ms. Iverson allowed several students to use her room as storage for books, as a result of a problem with lockers. In Good and Brophy we are told that: “our expectations affect the way we behave, and the way we behave affects how other people respond” (Good and Brophy 78). If Ms. Iverson only offered her room as a storage space to a few students, in whom she saw “promise,” this situation might be yet another example (alike the ones in our text) concerning the role of expectations in the process of “self-fulfilling prophecies” (G&B 76). Can teachers such as Ms. Iverson be expected to treat all of her students with such kindness (perhaps she does, but I would expect her room would be ceiling to ceiling books if this was the case)? Whether preferential treatment is conscious or unconscious, or motivated by kind or malicious intentions, its impact is far reaching inside and outside of Ballou. Students with teachers whose kind treatment transcends the classroom learn that there are networks – opportunities through which to adjust to or fight to change the system in which they live and learn.

    On the other hand, as Professor Voke mentioned, not all treatment is as kind as that of Ms. Iverson to some of her students; I got the same feeling from Ballou that much attention way being paid to keeping students in line, rather than focusing on the classroom education of the students (as seem in the already cited example of the principle coming down to “see what all the noise was” – not to greet students, but in anticipation of disciplining them.) This is where the self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play: If students spend eight hours of each day, five days a week, feeling like they are being policed – instead of encouraged in an environment such as Ms. Iverson’s class – the result will most likely not be engaged members of civic society (encouraged by people such as Ms. Iverson), but rather the production of students who feel that those around them (their own principal?) expect the worst from them.

    Additionally, the school/classroom environment at Ballou is an element of the hidden curriculum. There were many positive aspects of the Ballou environment, which exceeded my expectations. The flowers outside, the paintings inside, the relative cleanliness of the hallways were some of the positive elements, with the sparse windows, uncovered pipes, and certain in walls in need of patching and paint standing in stark contrast to them. At Ballou, as in other schools, the walls talk, in a way. Just as teachers convey expectations through behavior, which are internalized by students, environments can serve to motivate or discourage them. Ms. Iverson’s room was, on a whole, an encouraging environment. It was welcoming, and seemed to reflect the character of the teacher, as well as that of her students. It was comfortable – so comfortable in fact, students streamed in frequently throughout the 30 minutes our class visited. Some of the other rooms we passed seemed more stark, but her room, between the maps and pictures and little notes, stuck me as an environment that would be conducive to learning.

    The walls actually almost literally talk at Ballou. The hallways have quotes painted on many of the walls. One says: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle). The readings from Anyon and Good&Brophy made me reflect on this quote in a different way than when I initially read those words. If excellence is a habit – and habits are derived from the environments we live in and those around us (such as our teachers and classrooms) – then are students at DCPS such as Ballou kept from the “track” of more “excellence” futures by their environment? While this interpretation seems bleak, in this vein, forming habits of excellence can be changed within the current framework of DCPS through (a) altering the school environment or (b) altering the method/behavior of teachers towards their students. In the coming months, I hope to learn more of what the students think of this idea, and what areas of their school environment (classroom, teachers, or otherwise) will have the most positive impact on their academic careers, and future as participants in a democratic society.

  9. Owen September 19, 2007 11:27 pm

    One problem that I had with the “Hidden Curriculum” article was its reliance on a universal model that seemed to fit all cases seamlessly. This has been discussed both here and during class, but I feel a need to reiterate my argument. While Anyon’s piece was innovative and ground-breaking (because she engaged a topic historically untouched by other scholars), her thesis tried too hard to force one idea onto schools with very different characteristics. Because of this, her study seems to perfect to be replicated, especially almost thirty years after her initial research in New Jersey.

    This sticking point boils down to Anyon’s reliance on an assumption that each socio-economically distinct school was effectively homogeneous. However, from my own personal experiences and the opinions of my classmates, this seems far from the truth. First, within each school system this form of tracking takes place internally. This underscores the importance of the individual in negating Anyon’s work. Examples of personal tracking rather than school-wide branding include the diversity of coursework and the choices of the individual (i.e. some students register for a long list of advanced placement courses while others choose to attend carpentry and home-ec. courses). This illustrates that divisions are not bound by an entire school by rather the individual circumstances of each school itself. I think it is rash to assume that every student in a certain institution follows the same track, encounters the same successes and challenges, and comes to the same conclusions.

    This idea of the individual versus the collective as a definitive source of data is interesting to apply to Frank W. Ballou. I am sure that if Anyon had the opportunity to conduct research in the District she would be quite surprised (even Anyon herself mentioned the need to go beyond her initial research: “The identification of different emphases in classrooms in a sample of contrasting social class contexts implies that further research should be conducted in a large number of schools to investigate the types of work tasks and interactions in each to see if they differ in the ways discussed here and to see if similar potential relationships are uncovered.”). Yes, it is true that certain aspects of her research can be perceived as accurate (i.e. a lackluster teaching engagement for lower-class pupils because such institutions fail to attract the best instructors due to their economic and/or geographic situation). Still, I think she would find it difficult to construct an entire philosophy for the high school in Southeast. By this I mean, Ballou illustrates how teachers like Ms. Iverson, Mr. Wilson, and teachers that Cedric experience in A Hope Unseen, disrupt the status quo. They ensure that a standardized model can not be applied to one school. Its individual idiosyncrasies and teachers who excel boundaries outweigh the universal assumptions and similarities Anyon bases her thesis on.

    Therefore, although Anyon’s develops an interesting theory, I feel that heterogeneity in both individual students and star teachers damage her central argument. I would be interested in hearing personal recollections of your own high schools and how they bucked Anyon’s norm.

  10. cosperl September 23, 2007 4:10 pm

    I agree with Owen, the article may have been too clean cut not clearly open to the possibility that it’s not always black and white. granted affluent school and professional elite schools have far greater resources and potential given their environment, staff, opportunities, money, etc., there doesn’t exists this almost calculated reality of classrooms in the four categorical schools Anyon had observed. the fact that the author had only observed three or four classrooms from each of the schools lends light to the fact that this isn’t the exact reality of what is going on. i wanted to touch on this hidden curriculum idea and this tracking psychology. there was a lot of talk around the self-fuflling prophecy that teachers in the working class/poor schools track their students towards a path that leads them back into the wroking class. and i understand this reality because i’ve seen it first hand. some teachers are this way and others rightly refuse to buy into this. this brings me back to the Lareau article that we read the first week about child-rearing methods of either concerted cultivation or natural growth. and i’m not too sure if the ways in which some of these teachers were raised, and especially if they are african american from a lower socio-economic background, and raised in a “natural growth” manner are raising their students in the same way, which is seen in Anyon’s descriptions of a working class and sometimes middle class classroom. such as limited negotiations with the students, strict rules, rote memorization education, etc. it is extremely teacher specific, meaning that not every teacher in such schools are like this. why can’t a teacher in a working class middle class school also promote theorizing, also negotiate here and there when necessary, promote postulation, LEAD them towards infinte tracks, and not one track of working class/middle class professions and jobs after school. it truly makes no sense that the power of one individual teacher is often times overlooked and it shouldn’t. and anyon’s articles implicitly or i think explicitly stereotypes these schools and people by into this diagram. it just makes no sense to me that a teacher would lead their students on a track where they will only believe they can achieve certain professions. that is indeed a selfish teacher who doesn’t believe in themselves or anybody else, resources, environemnts, it doesn’t matter. mentally they should transcend all of that and let their students know they can physically and metnally trascend all of that as well. but again, i think the anyon article was too clean cut and not entirely the reality of schools that were observed.

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