Within every school system and every school building, there is something in common, permeating through each and every one of them. The hidden curriculum is incorporated into each and every classroom, with some teachers tying the curriculum firmly into their own academic lessons and materials, while others make strong attempts to limit and retain the long lasting effects it can have on their student’s psyches. According to Jane Roland Martin, who has contributed a significant amount of work on the issues of gender in education, the hidden curriculum has become revealed and visible to some, but to others, completely invisible and still “hidden.” 

Peggy Orenstein’s Schoolgirls, has shed significant light into the world of middle school, in which young girls are inevitably engulfed by the hidden curriculum. In this book, Orenstein splits her time between two schools in the state of California. The profound observations on the effects of the circumstances these girls are subject to is something teachers and parents see on any normal given day. Routinely, Orenstein witness’s boys getting ahead by talking over others, demanding attention and surely receiving it, and being rewarded for disruptive and distracting behavior all while an academic lesson is trying to be taught by the same teacher the boys constantly interrupt. The behavior of these young boys is constantly reinforced, only further instilling their dominance in the academic environment. It is in this same environment that girls are held to a completely different standard and are molded to be passive learners. This difference in praise of boys and girls for opposite behaviors is at the core of the hidden curriculum. Much of this was found in the first middle school, Weston. In the second school Orenstein studied, Audubon Middle School, the hidden curriculum had a different angle, sending the message that they as students do not share the potential and worth that others possess. Linked together by their social economic standing and how they ultimately choose to overcome the personal obstacles placed in front of them, these students blend together in the face of the issue on basic humanity. Most of the girls in this school either have had to deal with insufficient family support, pressure from families to help out and share some of the economic burden, or early exposure to criminal activity. These situations are difficult for anyone to overcome, let alone a girl at the age of twelve who is also at the very same time developing her sense of self.

The combination of family life influences and institutionalized enforcement of character standards effect both groups of girls and certainly differs at times in the way it is presented, but undoubtedly plays a critical part in the growth or decline of all the girls’ development of self in positive or negative ways. Being a female, who has attended public schooling my whole life, I myself have been subject to and witness to the hidden curriculum in action. Boys have never dominated me in classroom discussion, but for some of the others girls in my grade, it has shown to be so easy for them to become discouraged by answering wrongly or having someone shout over them. This pattern of girls self confidence dipping down, into almost nonexistent, making them more vulnerable, is induced by a learning environment that represses the female student time and time again. The hidden curriculum resonates from grade school all the way to graduate school, and with that kind of unwavering influence on the minds and socialization of young boys and girls, it is severely troublesome to change. Girls are given the wrong impression that they are unequal to their male counterparts and are reaffirmed of it each time they attend school.  Girls are encouraged to be submissive, compliant, and quiet whereas in the case for boys, they are applauded for being independent, dominant, and outspoken. This message doesn’t derive solely from the teachers but also from the text and literature and other materials the students are exposed to. This chronic conditioning of how a girl or boy should be results in both groups adopting their “proper” and respective roles for not only within the school system, but also persisting once integrated into adult society.

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