3,6,9 – Step 2: The Hidden Curriculum

(This is the second of three posts in preparation for the #KELTchat I’m moderating on Sunday 11/05/14 12pm GMT)


I ended the post on Cultural Capital by talking about what students bring to the learning situation and what they leave behind, which in its own way, constitutes what they bring.

In deep discussion over local hair salons with my neighbour recently, it emerged that I was an English teacher. Fatima, a 50-something Algerian woman who moved to France as a teenager, burst out with “oh I loved English at school, but I couldn’t stand being called Daisy… it was awful!… ça a tout bloqué pour moi (that spoiled everything for me).”

Now, few of us would actually do something this overt in our classrooms today, and I think it’s safe to say that forcing language learners to change their names for the sake of learning a language is thoroughly unacceptable.

But in a strictly English-only environment, for example, how much of our learners identities are we pushing aside? This isn’t a criticism of the English-only classroom by the way, I speak mostly English in my own – but I don’t forbid the use of other languages, and this is what I’m trying to unpack here: when English-only becomes an enforced rule. If multilingual identities are something that needs to be shed to enter the English language learning environment, what sort of world are we creating within the classroom? After all, the rest of the world doesn’t switch between one monolingual channel and another and then another…the rest of the world is multilingual, and oh so messy because of it.

I grew up speaking Malayalam and English, together with some Tamil and a lot of Bahasa because I was in Malaysia. The only one of those languages I’ve kept intact in adulthood is English – and my French and German are far more solid than any of my Asian languages today. I don’t consider myself as someone who speaks x or y number of languages, I’ve just had different attachments to them at different times in my life. Identity is a messy thing, language identity especially. And multilingual people like me outnumber monolingual people in the world today.

UNESCO has a particularly simple and elegant definition of the hidden curriculum. It essentially means that which is learnt but not taught. It has to do with the bits that are hard to even draw boxes for, let alone tick – you know the ones, to do with behaviour, with relationships, with praise, with punishment, with authority in its imposed and assumed forms.

I’ve taken the very simple example of an English-only policy in the classroom and tried to extrapolate what this might convey about the English-speaking world based on my non-straightforward ‘qualification’ of being a native English speaker. I grew up in Malaysia, where taking on an English name, especially among my Chinese friends, was a very, very common thing. And it was something positive and exciting. Unlike Fatima’s case, the adoption of a new identity came very naturally.

In a previous post, Willy and I attempted to tease out the messiness of personal values and how they impact our judgement. And following on from yesterday’s post, where I suggested that Cultural Capital deals with the ‘who’ and not just the ‘what’, thinking about what we teach and don’t teach, what we allow and don’t allow in our classrooms helps us think about the ‘why’.

One of my favourite Freire discoveries is something he said in an interview I watched- he talks about what we consider to be ‘cultivated’ and he says something like ‘the reason there is one that is cultivated, is because there is one that is not’. An English teacher somewhere in a Parisian suburb in the late 1970s decided that Fatima would be Daisy, (and in doing so imposed a worldview and value system that didn’t resonate with her student’s) and that impacted Fatima’s whole relationship with the world’s most common lingua franca.

Questions to think about before we chat:

-What do we do with the messy bits of our decision-making?

-How do we build a responsible and respectful vocabulary to talk about them?

-Who can involve in this vocabulary? Who can’t we involve? Where do these boundaries come from?

-Where can we take this dialogue and help it grow into more positive and collective action?

Finally, my step-by-step definition for Critical Pedagogy is (incase you missed yesterday’s post)

3 Nothing is neutral

6 Education is a consciousness-raising undertaking

9 Reshaping the power structures in our classrooms remodels everything

There’s a short and sweet read on the Hidden Curriculum here, and a much longer one here (look at the menu on the right for related articles).

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