Tag Archives: hidden curriculum

UDL and the “Hidden Curriculum”

In the 1992 film “A Few Good Men,” prosecutor Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) questions Cpl. Barnes (Noah Wyle) about the term “Code Red”.  The term cannot be found in the “Marine Outline for Recruit Training” or the Standard Operating Procedure Manual for Rifle Security Company, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Captain Ross suggests that if the term is not specifically named and described in either of these two books, then it either doesn’t exist or is unimportant. The defense attorney, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), points out that the mess hall isn’t named or located in either of those manuals either, but Cpl. Barnes has never missed a meal. How did Cpl. Barnes know what to do and where to go if the mess hall wasn’t explicitly taught to him by his books or his sergeant? His response is as brilliant as it is simple, “Well, I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.”

School has its own set of unwritten codes and rules. Many students do a great job of deciphering and adhering to these norms by observing them in action. However, some students do not learn these rules so easily in this manner. They are part of what Jean Anyon and others have called “The Hidden Curriculum,” and the phenomenon contributes to achievement / opportunity / support gaps for many students, especially those in historically disadvantaged subgroups.  “The Hidden Curriculum” may include expectations of behavior, content familiarity, and social interaction that are never explicitly taught.  When a student meets these expectations naturally, we deem them “school-ready”.  When a student does not, we somehow conclude that the student is deficient and not the expectation.

In no academic subject area do we expect the students already to have mastered the content before they are admitted to the classroom.  Why should we expect students to have mastered “The Hidden Curriculum” as a prerequisite to being allowed in the classroom, especially when it has not been explicitly taught?

Educators and educational systems can go a long way toward addressing achievement / opportunity / support gaps in their learning environments by looking for “The Hidden Curriculum” and taking actions designed to explicitly teach requisite skills to students who need it.  Or, perhaps even better, redesign those systems to reduce or eliminate inequitable expectations within the “Hidden Curriculum” that perpetuate lack of success for students in historically disadvantaged subgroups.

In other words, when it’s chow time, don’t assume a hungry kid will already know to follow the crowd to the mess hall.