Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Hiding in plain sight

Lately, I’ve been really fascinated by the notion of the hidden curriculum. I’m interested in the idea that we are inculcated into a set of knowledges, predisposing us to behave in certain ways, using such covert means that the teachers are often unaware of the who, what, when, where, why and how of these knowledges. In my thesis, I used the work of Basil Bernstein (cf. 1990; 2000) to examine the notion of belonging at schools. I was especially interested in his work on recognition and realisation. Before I go too much further, and he’s a notoriously hard theorist to use, I’m going to give you a quick primer on his thoughts. Firstly, Bernstein believed that there was a set of inherent challenges in schools that prevent some people from accessing the powerful cultural capital that school knowledge represents. He argued (cf. Bernstein, 2000, p. xxi):

Different knowledges and their possibilities are differently distributed to different social groups

The result, being “unequal value, power and potential” (p. xxi). He argued that only those students who were able to demonstrate a legitimate text in the schools were able to hold power, it was the legitimate text that was valuable to the school. Students could only demonstrate the legitimate text when they recognised what was required of them, and realised the appropriate school conduct. He argued that a legitimate text was

Any realisation on the part of the acquirer which attracts evaluation

(Bernstein, 2000, p. xvi – emphasis in original)

So, it involved more than just doing schoolwork, it was about everything you do at school. He also argued that those students who failed to realise the legitimate text would be considered to behave appropriately because they couldn’t infer (and that was the word he has used because as Morais, 2002 has noted, there is often no direct communication of what is expected) the appropriate behaviour and produce whatever it is that was required in that context. Much like the hidden curriculum, students are required to infer the how of pedagogy (cf. Singh, 2011) and behave in ways that are expected in a school environment. Only those students who can both recognise what they are being asked to do, and realise the legitimate text, will be able to succeed in schools.

Again, I’m left asking if that’s what we want. Is that okay? Do you want to let your kid go to school and be subjected to this?


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