It is common in education theory circles to read that schools’ role is to (re)produce the social order. For example, both Bourdieu (cf. 1977) and Bernstein (cf. 2001) argued that schools worked to include some and exclude others. While there are a plethora of terms used to describe this process (for example Bernstein’s controversial code theory and Bourdieu’s habitus + capital + field = practice formula), one used by theorist including Apple (1982), Anyon (1980) and, more recently building on this work, Giroux (2001) is Philip Jackson’s (1968) hidden curriculum.
While Philip Jackson (1968) was concerned with the ways that schools test what they don’t teach, I want to explore the notion of how the hidden curriculum reproduces the social order. By social order, I mean the way that, in spite of rhetoric about education providing equal opportunities for all, most children leave school in exactly the same social position they entered.
For example, Apple (1982) argued that schools hold power because they are one of the arbiters of hegemonic discourses (cf. here for an explanation of this concept). Hegemonic discourses are transmitted by the hidden curriculum. Kentli (2009) cites several of Apple’s papers to argue that schools are both distributors as well as arbiters of knowledge. This knowledge, of how to behave, think, act, sit and be are all elements of a hidden curriculum that is comprised of norms, expectations and values that are associated with the middle and upper classes.
In other words, students encounter various norms and cultures through rules and activities during their school and classroom life that form the social life in the school. Also, in another work, “Ideology and Curriculum”, Apple (2001) identifies that the hidden curriculum corresponds to the ideological needs of capital. Lynch (1989) emphasizes that Apple regards the manner of distributing high-status curricular knowledge as a core element of the hidden curriculum of reproduction.
(Kentli, 2009, p. 87)
Thus, if students don’t come to school with knowledge of the hidden curriculum, or valuable cultural capital (cf. Bourdieu, 1977) or speaking the restricted code (1971), then they will be no better off in terms of their social position at 18 than they were at 5 when they entered.
Does that seem fair? I thought schools were great levellers, they were meant to make the field more equal so that others can play too. It seems that these many theorists think that the level playing field, created by schools, is not the case.