Hidden Curriculum Essay

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The term hidden curriculum refers to the unofficial rules, routines, and structures of schools through which students learn behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes. Elements of the hidden curriculum do not appear in schools’ written goals, formal lesson plans, or learning objectives although they may reflect culturally dominant social values and ideas about what schools should teach. Of the three major approaches to the hidden curriculum, the functionalist orientation is most concerned with how hidden curricula reproduce unified societies, the conflict perspective focuses on the reproduction of stratified societies, and symbolic interactionism more fully incorporates interactional context with our understanding of the hidden curriculum.

Some scholars posit that the hidden curricula carry powerful class-based and race-based messages. Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Berstein, for example, suggest that schools also create social environments that better match with the class backgrounds of middle and upper class students. Through the hidden curriculum, students get the message that middle and upper class cultural values, norms, and attitudes are the standard by which all else is measured. Schools reward conformity to these cultural norms and certify certain methods of learning as the standard. These learning methods are likely to better match middle and upper class styles of interaction and penalize lower- or working-class students.


  • Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture. Sage, Beverly Hills, CA.

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