Society & Us

Society & Us: Hidden Curriculum

Schools have an obvious curriculum: the content of the subjects they teach.

In the 1960s it became popular to point out that they also have a hidden curriculum. In addition to teaching chemistry, biology and the like, schools teach pupils to respect authority, to accept being told what to do, to compete with each other and to get used to being judged. All these are championed as an important part of preparation for the world of work.


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Hidden curriculum refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school.

The hidden curriculum is described as ‘hidden’ because of its obscure nature. Moreover, since the values and lessons reinforced by the hidden curriculum are often the accepted status quo, it is assumed that these practices and messages do not need to change.

A hidden curriculum can either reinforce the lessons of the formal curriculum, or contradict the formal curriculum, revealing hypocrisies or inconsistencies between a school’s stated mission and what students actually experience and learn while they are in school.

Philip Jackson, professor and researcher in education at the University of Chicago, in his classic work, Life in the Classroom (1968) points to three aspects of the hidden curriculum: crowds, praise, and power.

In classrooms, pupils are exposed to the delay and self-denial that goes with being one of a crowd; the constant evaluation and competition with others; and the fundamental distinction between the powerful and the powerless, with the teacher effectively being the infant’s first boss.

Much sociological research has been concerned with the undesirable aspects of the hidden curriculum, whereby schools are said to sustain inequality through sexism, racism and class bias.

 Author: Stuti Das, India

Click to access the other articles in the “Society & Us” series: 

Society & Us: Sex, Gender, & Sexuality

Society & Us: New International Division of Labor

Society & Us: Definition of the Situation


  • Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. London: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.
  • Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. A Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
  • “Hidden Curriculum.” The Glossary of Education Reform. Great Schools Partnership, 13 July 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.
  • Megan, Graydon. “Philip Jackson, U. of C. Professor Who Studied Education, Dies at 86.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 24 July 2015. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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