Extending the Hidden Curriculum

I have been thinking about the thorny question of curriculum, and about how the best teachers are able to develop their understanding of the complexities of curriculum in order to find the spaces, the interstices between those formal, must-do bits in the curriculum, so that they can enrich the formal with the informal, with the spontaneous and with the serenditpitous, and so much more.

The notion of the hidden curriculum was once a hot topic in Scottish education (and beyond our shores too, of course), and was usually set alongside and differentiated from the formal and the informal curricula. Bart McGettrick, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Glasgow, gave us this definition in 1995:

All schools have a hidden curriculum…..The way the school is organised, the way the teacher talks to the pupil, the way we as educators listen to those whom we serve in schools, all affect the values which are transmitted, and affect the self-worth and self-concept of the pupil. These are some of the most important influences on how pupils feel and how they think and act….The strength of this should never be underestimated in the lasting impact of education on the lives of people.

However, Leslie Owen Wilson, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, took my thinking much further by listing and defining an imaginative range of curriculum ‘types’ that encompasses the formal, informal and hidden curricula, but adds a few more besides:

  • the overt, explicit or written curriculum (the formal written curriculum)
  • the societal curriculum (her take on the informal curriculum)
  • the hidden or covert curriculum (very similar to McGettrick’s definition above)
  • the null curriculum (what is not taught – a very interesting notion!)
  • the phantom curriculum (”….the messages prevalent in and through exposure to any type of media…”)
  • the concomitant curriculum (”What is taught, or emphasized at home, or those experiences that are part of a family’s experiences, or related experiences sanctioned by the family.”)
  • the rhetorical curriculum (”…comprised of ideas offered by policymakers, school officials, administrators, or politicians…”)
  • curriculum-in-use (in contrast to the formal curriculum, “…the actual curriculum that is delivered and presented by each teacher”)
  • internal curriculum (”Processes, content, knowledge combined with the experiences and realities of the learner to create new knowledge….unique to each learner”)
  • electronic curriculum (”Those lessons learned through searching the Internet for information, or through using e-forms of communication”)
  • This list certainly shifts thinking a long way beyond the simplistic definitions that tend to dominate much policy-based discussion of school curricula. Taken together, this kind of extended curricular thinking, to which I would want to add the ‘negotiated curriculum’ since, for me, all learning and all teaching springs from what the learner wants and chooses and is motivated to learn, offers some possibilities for shifting the ground decisively away from the rigidities of the formal, rhetorical and in-use curricula.