The Hidden Curriculum in Schools

The hidden curriculum refers to unspoken behaviors, norms, or values that children learn at school in addition to the official curriculum they are responsible for learning. This hidden curriculum is conveyed to pupils by teachers’ actions and by organizational processes operating inside the school. Hidden curriculum can include how to act in public, how to interact with authority figures, patriotism, but it also includes an aspect of gender roles. Gender is a major element of the hidden curriculum and is reinforced by specific gender roles that are played out culturally. Although there are indeed clear biological differences between male and female sexes, gender roles are heavily influenced by processes of socialization. According to Peggy Orenstein in Schoolgirls, “Once used to describe the ways in which the education system works to reproduce class systems in our culture, the hidden curriculum has recently been applied to the ways in which schools help reinforce gender roles, whether they intend to or not.”

This Blog shows a great example of gender roles being taught in elementary school by highlighting an assignment that a child apparently did incorrectly. The assignment was to categorize a list of toys and activities based on whether they were for boys or girls. Activities like these encourage the gendering of activities and toys and does not value the fact the child did not naturally gender these items, but is being taught to do so.

Although the previous example is a blatant and extreme example of the teaching of gender roles in the school, there are also more subtle ways in which gender roles are taught in the school. For example, the vast majority of teachers are women which reinforces children’s impression that women are more suited to looking after and teaching children. In the past it has been argued that many teachers supported traditional gender roles and were likely to praise girls and boys for gendered qualities. Another example is that children may be asked to help around the school in gender specific ways such as moving furniture for boys and helping clean or serve food or drinks for girls. A major example of emphasizing gender differences can be found in the differences in boys and girls school uniform rules. Often girls must wear skirts and are not allowed to wear pants although they may be more comfortable in pants.

In Schoolgirls, Orenstein notes that the hidden curriculum encourages certain behaviors from the genders. The hidden curriculum teaches girls to value silence and compliance, and to view those qualities as a virtue. The hidden curriculum teaches boys to be loud and outspoken, by encouraging their disruptive behavior with attention. Orenstein notes from her ethnography at Weston Middle School, “In fact, students tend to believe that, although they pay more attention to the boys, teachers actually like the girls better: as one Weston girl once told me, “teachers like us because we’re nicer, quieter, and better behaved.”” The separation of the genders into categories starts at an early age, but is further perpetuated by these distinct behavioral differences that the hidden curriculum is partly responsible for creating.

This hidden curriculum comprises the unstated lessons that students learn in school and because of the current state of the existence of gender roles in our society it’s practically inevitable. It is the running subtext through which teachers communicate behavioral norms and individual status in school culture, the process of socialization that cues children into their place in the hierarchy of larger society. The acknowledgement of this hidden curriculum by educators is the first step in eliminating teaching gender roles to children through the hidden curriculum. This reading goes into further detail about the teaching of gender roles and how that teaching plays out in the classroom. It goes into detail about specific instances in teaching that unintentionally teach gender roles, such as males frequently being portrayed as brave hero’s in children stories for example.

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