Hidden Curriculum



Hidden curriculum is a topic that is has been readily investigated and discussed throughout the years but seems to be making its’ way to the forefront of educational conversations today.  So what is hidden curriculum?  According to the editors of the Glossary of Education Reform, “hidden curriculum refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school.” (Hidden Curriculum, 2014, para.1).

The hidden curriculum is one that most instructors hope their students will learn and adopt but it is often not explicitly expressed to the students.  It can often be referred to as the implicit curriculum, which “refers to elements in either the course processes (teaching) or content decisions that have not been publicized and explained.” (Explicit and Implicit Curriculum Development, 2015, para. 2).  The hidden curriculum is not something that would be found written in a course syllabus or even readily talked about in class, rather it is those skills and attitudes that most instructors encourage their students to develop and emulate.

Formal curriculum differs from its counterpart of hidden curriculum in that it “consists of the courses, lessons, and learning activities students participate in, as well as the knowledge and skills educators intentionally teach to students.” (Hidden Curriculum, 2014, para.1).  Formal curriculum, often referred to as explicit curriculum, is that which an instructor makes apparent, can be found embedded within a course syllabus, and is what learning outcomes are often based upon.

What caught my attention most, while reading articles and viewing the videos on the hidden curriculum, is that some critical theorists believe that the hidden curriculum can actually be more important than the formal curriculum being taught due to the fact that it develops and promotes an institutions goals and ideals. (Drmathkat, 2011).  Why is it, that if there are so many people out there that realize the benefits of what is taught through the hidden curricula, that these goals and ideals being taught are still hidden?  If the benefits are so apparent why are more educators not being transparent in all that they teach, as opposed to just being transparent with the formal curriculum goals and desired outcomes?


As stated in the article Peekabo: Hiding and Outing the Curriculum, through her work on the hidden curriculum theorist Emile Durkheim took the position that “what is essential in a stable and orderly society is the existence of a moral consensus or a set of common values.  Socializing children to hold particular values such as those of ‘achievement’ and ‘equality of opportunity’ is necessary to this consensus and is the primary function of education.” (Margolis, Soldatenko, Acker, & Gair, N.D., para 10).  I find myself in agreement with the position taken by Durkheim, in that there is definitely a need for common morals within society.  Having common morals and values that are prevalent in society is beneficial in that it allows people to know what acceptable behaviour is.

As with most elements of life, while there may be many benefits to the hidden curriculum, there can also be dangers associated with the development of certain behaviours and ideals brought about by it.  After viewing the video The Hidden Curriculum (2011), I find myself in agreement with the narrator in that often students are encouraged to display conforming behaviour acceptable to the institution they attend and this can in fact stifle the creative thinking and learning process.  To what extent should we be trying to conform our young, while discouraging them from actively experimenting with their morals and values?  Who is to say that the norms and values in society today are actually the right ones to be following?  I cannot deny that most of what is taught through the hidden curriculum benefits students and society as a whole, however I do believe that it has it’s downsides as well.


Critical theorists from the United States and Great Britain came to recognize that hegemonic ideology and practice is deeply and essentially conflicted. Because culture is lived and produced, they argued, schools cannot be understood as simply places where students are instructed, organized, and controlled by the   interests of a dominant class. Students are not merely passive vessels but    creatively act in ways that often contradict expected norms and dispositions that             pervade the schools. (Margolis et al., N.D. para 25)

Through the research and reflection I have done on the hidden curriculum, I have come to realize that I share a lot of the same opinions of resistance theorists.  I believe that during the schooling years students need not only to conform to certain behaviours and accepted norms that are being taught, but they need to be encouraged to think and explore outside of those norms and forge their own paths in life.  I don’t believe that schooling should be about producing members of society that fit the ideals of the larger society; rather I believe it should be about encouraging people to think creatively, seek and discover new paths, and most of all question what they are being taught.

While I do believe it is necessary to encourage students to develop certain values that our society upholds, I do not believe that these should be the key areas of focus in education today.  I believe that not only should education be focused on teaching the formal curriculum, certain skills and behaviours, but that it needs to have a focus on teaching our young to question what they are taught.  The development of critical thinking and rationalization skills is imperative to the continued success of our society.  Rare prodigiousness does not come from having everyone think and act the same, people need to be encouraged to seek their own paths to greatness.  I believe that if schools focus too much attention on trying to conform students to the ideal norms, the ability for these people to be unique and become something amazing can be lost in this.


Through the research and reflection I have done, I can definitely see that that are many benefits to the hidden curriculum.  I do, however, agree with what John Dunford said in the video The Hidden Curriculum (2013), “the hidden curriculum need not be hidden”.  I think that instructors need to try to be more transparent with all that they wish their students to learn, and the attitudes and morals they hope to have them emulate.  I think it is imperative to the true success of our students that these attitudes, morals and values be brought to the forefront of education.

In my own practice I try to be as transparent as possible with the expectations and classroom behaviours that I expect from my students.  I do so by sharing this information with my students through the course syllabus, the creation of classroom rules, and through introductory videos that I show on the first day of class.  By being very open about my expectations and the attitudes and values that I expect students to emulate and display towards one another, I believe that it leaves little area for interpretation.  I explicitly explain to my class from the being of a semester, that while I hope they will adopt the attributes I share with them I believe that every adult is an individual and one must continually be evaluating themselves, including their values and beliefs.  Every person is an individual and as such I do not believe that each person must share the same values and beliefs as others.

I believe that education should not only be about teaching formal curriculum and a certain set of values and norms, but that a large focus should be on teaching people to question those values and norms.  For if one is never to question those values and norms, then how are they able to stand by the belief that what they have been taught is right?  How are changes in society supposed to occur if no one is ever encouraged to question these teachings?

Let us not allow the hidden curriculum to remain hidden any longer.  Let us teach our students to actively and continually question what they are taught.  Let us encourage our students to be provoked by the very things they learn while pursuing these questions.  Let us inspire our students to be great and forge their own paths, not accepting everything they are taught as doctrine.



Drmathkat (2011, July 26). The Hidden Curriculum [Video file]. Retrieved from             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY2hpAOJTRQ&feature=youtu.be&list=PLv1 FDlhK4VqsJCMVR0k_rCoWCvw_gzywz

Explicit and Implicit Curriculum Development (2015) PIDP 3210 – Study Guide – Curriculum Development. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Vancouver Community        College. Retrieved from http://moodle.vcc.ca/mod/resource/view.php?id=462721

Hidden curriculum (2014, August 26). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education         reform. Retrieved from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum

HumanutopiaTV (2013, July 8).  John Dunford- The Hidden Curriculum [Video file].         Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GArXFThb_E&feature=             youtu.be&list=PLv1FDlhK4VqsJCMVR0k_rCoWCvw_gzywz

Margolis, E., Soldatenko, M., Acker, S., & Gair, M., (N.D.). Peekaboo: Hiding and             Outing the Curriculum. In The Hidden Curriculum in Higher Education (Section 1). Retrieved from http://www.udel.edu/anthro/ackerman/hidden%20curr.pdf