The hidden curriculum

The picture above reflects many of the stereotypes that I learned early in life about who I was supposed to be and what my role is in society. I was only too eager to conform to these stereotypes (as much as I could) in order to be accepted. I learned not to speak up in class, to be quiet (“Children should be seen, not heard”), not to be too smart, let the boys do the talking, to be pretty and feminine, to giggle, to not ask too many questions or to talk about myself too much, not to take too much space, etc.

I chose to talk about the hidden curriculum in schools because I was a latchkey kid in the 70s and 80s, with two working parents and probably too much independence. Much of what I learned at home about the world, and my place in it, was through books, television, magazines, newspapers, and advertising.

School is often seen as a socializing institution, but I also believe it happens throughout our lives and in and through all our daily interactions with family, schools, peers and mass media. These agents of socialization teach us about culture inequalities, and help us to form our self-identity, beliefs and values. I felt out of place and unsafe in many of my classrooms as I did not feel that I lived up to the expectations, especially physically. I believe the hidden curriculum affects the accessibility of liberty and education by creating subconscious barriers.

Through critical dialogue and reflection in post-secondary education, I learned how much influence the hidden curriculum had on me and my learning.  Movies and television portrayed boys as heros and protagonists and girls were interchangeable and played a supporting role to boys. This poor representation of women in media has not improved much in the last decade, either! Girls were to accept and understand poor male behaviour as boyish charm, or the behaviour of a misunderstood genius. Girls did not support other girls, they only learned to support boys. As I grew up, these messages did change and girls were pulled to the forefront as more valued members of the community (thanks to the Feminist movements of the 60s and 70s) but there was also the backlash against women in the 1980s. TV shows like Dynasty and Beverley Hills 90210 portrayed women in the workforce or in power as manipulative, catty, and back-stabbing – or just absent altogether. Women who stayed home were (mostly) sweet, hardworking, nurturing and caring, unless they were socially ambitious. This hidden curriculum is similar to the pragmatic and stoic Christian ideals described by Marx (Gutek, 2011), that were elevated and sold to poor factory workers in the 18th century to maintain the status quo. Through the hidden curriculum, we learned that the most powerful people in the world were rich, male, white and middle-aged, the most powerful women were rich, beautiful and mean (but totally unworthy of love, destined to be lonely).

Throughout my teaching career, I began to realize the nuanced hidden curriculum in some of my own choices for teaching in the classroom:

  • The classroom set up and seating arrangements (loud-spoken boys with “good” girls – much like it was when I attended K-12 – and “bad boys” seated up front near me. I started out my teaching career having the kids seated on the floor during story time or discussions, but then moved us all into chairs in a circle.
  • I had students call me by my name one year, but the administration did not appreciate it, and some parents as well. (This was in a resource-rich community).
  • Some of the resources (visual materials, aids and references) in the classroom still had illustrations of boys doing athletic activities, and girls doing quiet, introverted activities, or talking with other girls. Even the literature reflected these stereotypes. I worked hard to find literature that addressed the inequalities of gender stereotypes.
  • Some of my own examples and stories would be gender-stereotyped, or worse, I would have culturally stereotyped assumptions about the students and their families. For example, many teachers and workplaces now stereotype Millennials as lazy, self absorbed and overly sensitive, although the data in many studies have shown this to be absolutely false.

I worked hard to try to discuss these types of stereotypes in the classroom and encouraged students to challenge their own assumptions about others. The idea of dialogue and critical reflection is essential for helping students to recognize the dominant ideologies in the “hidden” and not-so-hidden curriculum, expectations, and policies that they are taught. Students must be free to examine and recognize the importance of some ideas, while determining which ones may be detrimental to their access to education and realization of self. This relates to popular education that we did in our reading about Nel Noddings (Glowacki-Dudka, 2018) and about using popular education to encourage social change and genuine democracy.

Globally, and in Western Culture, education for girls is increasingly (albeit slowly) becoming equal and fair. Today, we see women challenging the status quo with the #MeToo movement and younger (high school) students uniting and challenging the community values and policies that are not representative of the community needs with the Parkland Student Marches. The assumed [North]American values are being openly criticized by those that have been negatively affected by them (also by the media about the media) . However, there are still many obstacles or barriers due to economics, cultural gender roles, and family status for girls and other minorities and marginalized groups who are desperately trying to get a fair education to improve their future opportunities and potential for a better life.

Survey of 180 students by Rock Bridge High School, MO, USA. Image courtesy of Vivienne Parry © 2014 UNICEF Ireland. Retrieved from

Hidden Curriculum media sources of the 70s, 80s and 90s

Glowacki-Dudka, M., Mullett, C., Griswold, W., Baize-Ward, A., Vetor-Suits, C., & Londt, S. C. (2018). Framing Care for Planners of Education Programs. Adult Learning, 29(2), 62–71.

Gutek, G. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Pearson Education: USA, Boston.

Vogstad, K. (2015, Oct. 11). The Classroom as the Third Teacher . . . what are your students learning to live? [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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