Deciphering the Hidden Curriculum

Activities & Lessons


Social Justice & Student Voice



60 minutes.

Human Restoration Project. CC-BY-SA.

January 2021

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This lesson focuses on analyzing the hidden curriculum present in various classroom situations, and encourages students to discuss and debate how these situations relate to broader societal messages and power dynamics.

video overview

overview & purpose

The “hidden curriculum” consists of the ideas school teaches without explicitly telling a student “that’s the point.” Start by explaining to students what the hidden curriculum is. Explain that our goal is to question authority. Is school set up to always do the right thing? The goal is to encourage critical thinking and challenge the assumptions and values conveyed through the hidden curriculum.

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educator notes

The example may or may not be provided to students. Encourage discussion for each of the following.

lesson / activity

For each of the following situations, have students work in whatever means they prefer to analyze the “hidden meaning.” Ensure they have proper time to discuss and debate how these relate, and if there’s a reason to change how the classroom uses each of these. Encourage students to come up with their own situations and how these express the hidden curriculum. If they desire, have them share their own experiences and how they’ve felt as a result.

A student asks another student for help during a test. The teacher fails the student for cheating.
Asking for help from others is a negative trait. We should rely only on ourselves. In the real world, it’s “every man for themselves.”

A student begins to walk out of class to go to the restroom. The teacher gives the student the “evil eye” and tells them to sit down.
In the classroom, the teacher has total control. A student has no right to move freely or act on their own volition. Students should be afraid of authority figures.

The teacher makes an error on a problem on the board. A student questions if they’re sure about the solution. The teacher writes them off and continues to lecture.
Authority figures cannot be wrong and students should not question authority. A student’s voice does not matter as much as an adult.

A student falls asleep in class. The teacher slams their desk, startling said student, and many of the other students laugh.
A person’s well-being does not matter in a school and/or work environment. People must be prepared or face public humiliation.

A student fails a test. The teacher records the grade. The class moves on.
There are no opportunities for retakes, and therefore, learning isn’t the goal. Instead, we’re promoting “test-takers” - those who perform the first time - and leave behind those being challenged or who are struggling.

The teacher selects the curriculum from the state standards. All students learn the same curriculum. (This may require additional documents and discussion.)
Student input is not valued in selecting what they learn. Curricula (no matter the subject) convey, overwhelming, a white, male, affluent perspective and tend to exclude the perspective of those marginalized.

Every time a student walks into the classroom, the teacher has a prepared lesson plan. Students complete their activities and move on.
The teacher holds all knowledge and student input does not matter. A student’s experiences, knowledge, and ideas aren’t important within the classroom. Authority figures control all power in making decisions.

A student is late for class and the teacher remarks, “Nice of you to join us!” in a sarcastic manner.
The intent is to make the student “feel bad” for the decisions that they’ve made. The class is told that public humiliation will follow for those who don’t obey the rules set by authority figures.

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