The hidden curriculum should concern parents, teachers and school leaders. Teaching is a form of communication. When we communicate there are times when what we see doesn’t exactly jive with the situation or the manner in which we say it. It can be obvious: shouting, “I’m not angry with you.” It can also be subtly undermining.
In this post I want to share with you some of my perceptions of the hidden messages that free schools can unwittingly pass on to children. They are not good messages. But when we are aware of them, we can try to do something about it!
The Down Side
- An essentialist view of human nature that can reduce adult responsibility to intervene when children show educational or other ‘deficits’; the suggestion that some people are just born smarter than others, for example.
- Too much adult time and material resources dedicated to children that are in classrooms or that choose the exam routes of academic subjects. Or the reverse.
- The fact that children who can read have more opportunities to exercise their free choice than children who cannot.
- The belief that it is okay to remove children from a society of their peers and give them a special education apart, with little concern for socio-political ideas of equality, class-consciousness and oppression.
- A closer student-teacher relationship that makes it much easier for the teacher to be an influence on certain children, even if not intended.
- The notion that children can generate their own meanings and learning which, however possible in certain areas of life, can be a serious handicap to personal progress at certain stages of formal subject learning.
- Any kind of hero-founder myth that creates belief without thinking or analysis, and any kind of fantasy that free schools are utopias.
The Up Side
Of course, the hidden curriculum of a Free School has many good features. For example, in a free school, the nature of the environment itself:
- Encourages children to be self-sufficient, understanding through their own experience the limits of their abilities.
- Promotes an atmosphere of open tolerance where problems are resolved in meetings. There is no recourse to authority figures.
- Offers the option of a Reduced Formal Curriculum, with the implicit message that there is a structure of knowledge that can be accessed by children.
- Allows unchecked practice in the natural concentration that takes place when children are engaged in something they have freely chosen to do.
- Gives children the power to say “no”.
- Says that adults are not there to entertain children, or totally responsible for a child’s successes or difficulties. This helps the child own responsibility for herself, and for the general school community.
It is a good idea for schools to look at the assumptions of their hidden curriculum regularly. They can invite outside voices to comment on their structures and processes.
Free schools must be constantly aware of the hidden messages their school contexts give: