Exposing the hidden curriculum

  • Portelli J
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Curriculum theorists usually distinguish the formal (or official or mandated) curriculum from the actual curriculum. The formal curriculum is that curriculum which is officially recognized. It is public, available to all who ask for it and it is meant to be explicit. If there is agreement upon it and if in arriving at the formal curriculum the appropriate considerations have been taken into account, it is also, in a sense, an idealization (that which we seek to attain). The actual curriculum, that which is actually carried out, could be identical to the formal curriculum (although this may be difficult to achieve) and it could be made explicit. The hidden curriculum is usually contrasted with the formal curriculum and may form part of the actual curriculum.

The major aim of this paper is to argue for (1) the claim, made for example by Greene (1983: 3), that the hidden curriculum 'always has a normative or "moral" component', and (2) the related claim that, all things being equal, educators have the responsibility to make the hidden curriculum as explicit as possible. Such positions, it will be argued, arise from the very nature of the notion of the hidden curriculum itself rather than, as it is usually claimed, from the kind of things that are often referred to as being learnt implicitly. To argue for these positions it will be necessary to analyse the concept of the hidden curriculum, as well as briefly to look at how the notion is employed and understood by educationists who have defended different conceptions of it. While the analysis will also eliminate some common but misleading misgivings about the notion, it will identify logically possible and meaningful kinds of curricula not always captured, or at least not clearly identified in the literature, but which we need to be aware of for moral and educational reasons.

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  • John P. Portelli

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