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Critical Pedagogy: The Hidden Curriculum

The Hidden Curriculum


Within every school system, there is a curriculum and there is a hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum is composed of the lessons that are not taught in schools but are learnt anyway. The hidden curriculum is where a lot of subtle disempowerment takes place. I think one of the most prominent ‘subjects’ in the hidden curriculum is attitude towards gender, which was the last post on this blog. When teachers or parents make careless comments about boy subjects or girl subjects, boy sports or girl sports, albeit with perfectly innocent agendas, the cumulative effect of such attitudes, we all know, could seriously impact a girl’s perceptions of the opportunities that are available to her in life. Hidden as it may be, this space is as real as the physical curriculum, and shouldn’t be left unsupervised and shaped by accident.

A noun worth familiarising yourself with when it comes to Critical Pedagogy is ‘givens’. A given is quite simply a basic fact that one would accept a truth. Because they’re accepted as a truth, their reasons for being are rarely examined. These truths thus stand in positions of authority, despite the social shifts and changes that occur around them with time. You can probably see where I’m going with this… we need to loosen the boundaries of a given. We need to see the problems within these structures and perhaps even knock certain truths off their pedestals.

What are the givens of teaching and learning? This question, I think is best answered locally, and problematised according to the socio-cultural norms of the contexts they’re asked in. What I would suggest though, in answering this question is to consider the hidden curriculum and break through that structure as well in problematising the things we take for granted.

In deep discussion over local hair salons with my neighbour recently, it emerged that I was an English teacher. Fatima, a 50-something Algerian woman who moved to France as a teenager, burst out with “oh I loved English at school, but I couldn’t stand being called Daisy… it was awful!” she exclaimed throwing her hands in the air “it spoiled everything for me”.

Some English language classrooms for example insist on an English-only environment. Some believe that this is helpful to learning. I wonder, when English-only becomes an enforced rule, how much of our learners identities are we pushing aside? If multilingual identities are something that needs to be shed to enter the English language learning environment, what sort of world are we creating within the classroom? After all, the rest of the world doesn’t switch between one monolingual channel and another and then another…

One of my favourite Freire discoveries is something he said in an interview I watched- he talks about what we consider to be ‘cultivated’ and he says something like ‘the reason there is one that is cultivated, is because there is one that is not’. An English teacher somewhere in a Parisian suburb in the late 1970s decided that Fatima would be Daisy, (and in doing so imposed a worldview and value system that didn’t resonate with her student’s) and that impacted Fatima’s whole relationship with the world’s most common lingua franca.


The hidden curriculum exists in all educational systems and is something which critical pedagogy seeks to address in order to unpack the seeming orderliness of it. Schooling cannot be defined as a sum of its official course offerings, as Henry Giroux says, and we as teachers are such primary actors in understanding the hidden play in our classrooms, our curricula and our students’ relationship to the world around them because we are in the most privileged position of spending time with them everyday. No one has the kind of access we do.

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