The Hidden Curriculum
Although not the first sociologist to use the concept, the phrase "hidden curriculum" was originally coined by Philip Jackson ("Life In Classrooms", 1968) to draw attention to the idea that schools do more than simply aid the transmission of knowledge between one generation and the next. Jackson argues that we need to understand "education" as a socialisation process.
That is, a process that involves the transmission of norms and values as well as a body of socially-approved knowledge (that also involves socially-derived conceptions of what constitutes valid knowledge, acceptable levels of understanding and so forth).
We have to understand not just the social construction of knowledge (the way cultures define and produce what they consider to be valid forms of knowledge), but also the way the teaching and learning process is socially-constructed. In this respect, Jackson summarises this idea when he argues:
"The hidden curriculum refers to ways in which pupils learn to accept the denial and interruption of their personal desires and wishes".
This is not, of course, the only - or even the main - definition of the hidden curriculum, but it does encapsulate Jackson's argument that pupils, if they are to succeed within the education system, have to "learn how to learn". That is, they have to learn to conform not just to the formal rules of the school but also to the informal rules, beliefs and attitudes perpetuated through the socialisation process.
The basic idea behind the concept of the hidden curriculum, therefore, is that pupils learn things that are not actually taught in the formal curriculum and, in this respect, the concept of a hidden curriculum refers to the way the learning process is organised:
a. Consciously. For example:
- In terms of the physical organisation of the school itself - a place separate from the home, the workplace and the like.
- The organisation of the classroom - for example, the teacher standing at the front, pupils seated and arranged in rows.
b. Unconsciously. For example:
- The way individual teachers interpret the behaviour of pupils.
- The way teachers have different expectations of pupils based on interpretations of behaviour in class.
As should be evident from the above, the concept of a hidden curriculum is a very broad one; that is, it is not easy to tie it down to one particular theoretical viewpoint. Rather, the concept refers to a wide range of socialising influences and processes, some of which are inter-related and others relatively self-contained.
In this respect, the theory itself can be applied to a variety of explanations for differential educational achievement based on categories such as social class, gender and ethnicity.