What Is Hidden Curriculum?

School counselor talks with diverse elementary students
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Hidden curriculum is a concept that describes the often unarticulated and unacknowledged things students are taught in school and that may affect their learning experience. These are often unspoken and implied lessons unrelated to the academic courses they're taking — things learned from simply being in school.

Hidden curriculum is an important issue in the sociological study of how schools can generate social inequality. The term has been around for some time but it was popularized in 2008 with the publication "Curriculum Development" by P.P. Bilbao, P. I. Lucido, T. C. Iringan and R. B. Javier. The book addresses a variety of subtle influences on students' learning, including the social environment in a school, teachers' moods and personalities, and their interactions with their students. Peer influence is also a significant factor. 

The Physical School Environment 

A substandard school environment can be a component of hidden curriculum because it can impact learning. Children and young adults don't focus and learn well in cramped, dimly lit and poorly ventilated classrooms, thus students in some inner-city schools and those located in economically challenged areas may be at a disadvantage. They may learn less and take this with them into adulthood, resulting in the lack of college educations and poorly paying employment.

Teacher-Student Interaction 

Teacher-student interaction can contribute to a hidden curriculum as well. When a teacher does not like a particular student, he may do everything he can to avoid displaying that feeling, but the child can often pick up on it anyway. The child learns that she is unlikable and invaluable. This problem can also arise from a lack of understanding about students' home lives, details of which are not always available to teachers.

Peer Pressure 

The influence of peers is a significant component of hidden curriculum. Students don't attend school in a vacuum. They're not always seated at desks, focused on their teachers. Younger students have recess together. Older students share lunch and gather outside the school building before and after classes. They're influenced by the pull and tug of social acceptance. Bad behavior can be rewarded in this environment as a positive thing. If a child comes from a home where her parents cannot always afford lunch money, she may be ridiculed, teased and made to feel inferior. 

Results of Hidden Curriculum 

Female students, students from lower-class families and those belonging to subordinate racial categories are often treated in ways that create or reinforce inferior self-images. They may also be often granted less trust, independence or autonomy, and they may be more willing to submit to authority for the rest of their lives as a result.

On the other hand, students who belong to dominant social groups tend to be treated in ways that enhance their self-esteem, independence, and autonomy. They're therefore more likely to be successful.

Young students and challenged students, such as those suffering from autism or other conditions, may be especially susceptible. School is a "good" place in the eyes of their parents, so what happens there must also be good and right. Some children lack the maturity or ability to differentiate between good and bad behavior in this environment. 

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Crossman, Ashley. "What Is Hidden Curriculum?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/hidden-curriculum-3026346. Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 26). What Is Hidden Curriculum? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hidden-curriculum-3026346 Crossman, Ashley. "What Is Hidden Curriculum?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hidden-curriculum-3026346 (accessed October 7, 2022).