W. Justin Highfill Professor Rieman English 1101X 2 February 2010
Unmasking the Hidden Curriculum
The "hidden curriculum" is the supposed process by which schools "prepare" their students to enter certain class-specific jobs and lifestyles. The hypothesis, laid down in Jean Anyon's essay "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work," is that the class of the school, determined by the social class of the students and their parents, decides the social class the students are prepared for. That is, a lower or working-class school gears its students to enter into the working class, while an upper class school sets its students on the path to an upper-class lifestyle. In theory, this is accomplished through psychological and behavioral conditioning. The differences are not so much in the material as they are in their methods of presentation, with the overall goal not to develop class-specific skills, but to inflict a class-specific mind set. This is done primarily through the attitudes and observed outlooks of the teachers. Whereas a lower class teacher might demand a strict and mundane regimen, using menial tasks and base repetition as a form of teaching, a higher-class teacher might place emphasis on understanding the concept, which is arguably "teaching" vs. "learning." The focus change is based on the student, with the "teaching" method requiring little actual thought on the part of the student, while the "learning" approach hinges on and develops the student¶s ability and willingness to grasp a concept.
The projected result of these different teaching styles is a mindset custom tailored to the job line one is supposed to enter. The lower-class education accustoms the student to menial labor, strict organizational hierarchy, and an unquestioning acceptance for rules, a mindset fitting with working-class jobs. The higher-class education, on the other hand, having expanded the students' problem solving, critical, and analytical thinking skills, is a well-suited preparation for upper class jobs involving decision making and management. It is here that the question arises. Should the schools decide what social class a child should ultimately enter? But before we can address that, we need to look at the extent and deliberateness of this "hidden curriculum" theory. Anyon's essay portrays the hidden curriculum as a product of teaching styles, and thus, primarily dependant on the teacher. Are all teachers calculatingly guiding their students through subtle manipulation? Or are the varying teaching styles an indiscriminate product of environment? Anyon's focus stems toward the end result of this schooling. In her quest to expose what she believes to be a grievous wrong, she fails to thoroughly examine the different possible causes of the varying classroom activity. This is evidenced by Anyon's statement, "What is of primary concern is not the immediate cause of classroom activity." (Anyon 246) While this outlook spotlights the result over the origin, focusing on the final outcome of the students as opposed to why that outcome exists, it does not fail to exhibit Anyon's personal opinion, and the reader ends up with a slanted view, angled toward the beliefs of the author. The causes for her observations, the reason behind the "hidden curriculum" cannot be ignored. Making the determinations of whether a result is insidious in nature or is the natural product of a set situation, of who is to blame, and of whether it can or even should be changed, are all dependent upon the why. By
overlooking the origins of this situation, Anyon's reader is forced to act upon her assumptions, her belief that the hidden curriculum is both manufactured and wrong. Many would argue that the hidden curriculum, (at least in the sense that Anyon portrays it) does not exist, and that differing methods in teaching are in direct response to the behavior of the children. A misbehaved, unmotivated, or uncaring group of students would not respond to the teaching attempts of the upper class teachers. They would abuse their freedom, and ultimately, the teacher would be forced to amend her teaching habits, accepting that only strict regimens could coerce orderly conduct from her students. After a time teaching in such an environment, the teacher would abandon her former style completely, relying on regimen for all of her new classes. Consequently, in a classroom of well-behaved, self-motivated, eager students, the same teacher would be freer to allow the children to explore on their own, knowing that they have the willingness and capability to both learn and thrive, and thus she would be able to abstain from trite, regimental methods. This argument asserts that schools do not teach social class, so as to instill it, but teach to the class of their students, tailoring their lessons and teaching methods to best suit the learning capabilities of their students. John Taylor Gatto, an ex-teacher turned activist for school reform, and author of books such as Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling (1992), carries the opposite opinion. He writes: "The current system of government factory schooling is based on belief that ordinary children cannot accomplish much, will not work hard unless coerced, tricked, or bribed, and will inevitably work, for the balance of their post school lives, - if they work at all - in large government, corporate, or institutional employment pyramids managed by a professional elite. (Gatto 1997)" These circumstances would perfectly explain the current
system. According to this view, the lower class, or by this definition, ordinary students, would not be viewed as capable. They would not be expected to "accomplish much" or even to be able to work diligently without manipulation. In this case, they would be taught down to, set strict, infantile rules to keep them in place, and even treated with an obscene lack of respect, all aspects portrayed in Anyon's essay. At the same time, this view looks upon the upper-class children as "above ordinary." Those children would be held to a different standard of schooling, one tailored toward their growth and advancement, allowing them to thrive. Under this argument, in direct opposition to the previous assertion, the personality or quality of the students has no affect on their schooling. They are gauged solely on the social standing of their parents, and are treated accordingly. Both of these arguments serve to qualify the current system of schooling. Both achieve the same results, but under completely different methods. With one, the reasons are arguably good, even beneficial, and the outcome is natural. With the other, the reasons would most likely be considered wrong, and the outcome an unjust product. But in the end, while the reasons for the current system of schooling are inconclusive, and it is even unclear if the outcome is just or unjust, both types of students end up able to perform in school. They both are afforded the academic resources to further their education through college, and with a college education, to change their place in society, be it established by school or not.
Work Cited Anyon, Jean. "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Writing Conventions. Eds. Lu and Horner. New York: Pearson 2008. 246. Print Gatto, John Taylor. "Mudsill Theory, the Lancaster Amish and Jamie Escalante." www.spinninglobe.net/amishmudsill.html. 1997. Web.