My Hidden Curriculum

The term "hidden curriculum" often conjures up images of robots and factories and students growing complacent. It almost requires a Pink Floyd track or a Frank Zappa quote. It's the idea that students are socialized in a hidden curriculum to become consumers and compliant workers. 

What if we hacked the term?

What if a hidden curriculum was a more subversive activity? What if it was hidden, because it was underground. Not illegal, per se, but certainly against the norms of some of the social structures? What if we, as teachers, found ways to push the things that matter most that are somehow absent from school? 

The following is a list of my hidden curriculum:
  1. Philosophical Thinking: Next week, we will have our first Philosophical Friday. Technically, it will be a lesson in "listening and speaking" along with writing. But it will really be philosophy. 
  2. Coding: I know that in my last post, I suggested that not everyone needs coding. It was a response to the obsession with "everyone needs" statements that can sometimes go overboard.
  3. Inquiry-Based Science: I'm going to teach my students how to observe, ask questions and then do something that tests their questions. Not a rigid scientific method. Not a pre-set experiment I have for them.
  4. The love of reading: I want them to find a genre that they fall in love with.
  5. Global interactions: I want my students to partner with a class across the world and talk openly about their shared humanity and their cultural differences. 
  6. Learn to serve: I want my students to learn to serve in little ways (holding doors, helping out -- our class jobs don't have rewards) and in big ways (trips to the food bank) 
  7. Hard work: I have a hidden curriculum of hard work. It's a piece that people often miss in this blog. Although I often advocate for student freedom, I believe that there is a moment when teachers need to step in and say, "You will do this even if you are frustrated, scared or bored. The end results will be worth it and you will be thankful that you moved past your complacency or your fear." 
  8. Creativity: Part of this involves painting and drawing. I have an art center. We might paint a mural. But I also want students to design their own works. I want them to write creatively. I want them to solve problems. I want them to make their own math problems, film their own documentaries, and use classroom materials to build stuff. 
  9. Asking Questions: I want my students to learn the art of asking critical thinking questions. I want meaningful, rich discourse, even when language acquisition is still an issue. 
  10. Tech criticism: For all the tech we use, I will push a hidden curriculum of tech criticism. 
  11. Government: I want students to learn about the differences (or lack thereof) in the political parties. I want them to see how the local municipalities affect their everyday life. I want them to see the lies and the propaganda along with the hope and the democracy. It needs to go beyond simply seeing a diagram of the three branches of government.
  12. Being polite: I want to model civility with students. I know this sounds quaint. However, I want my students to say "please" and "thank you" and to engage in conflict without bring rude.
  13. Learning is fun: I want to fight the perception that learning isn't fun. True, I want it to be more than fun. I want it to be powerful and meaningful. But on some deep level, I want students to see that learning can be one of the best things in life. 
  14. Passion: I want my students to become geeks about something. I want them to become passionate about some topic, some subject or some project and leave the classroom continuing to do that forever. I'm not sure if my previous list will get in the way of the last one. I'm not sure if every student needs every part of what I listed above. And I wonder what I am missing from their own desired list in a hidden curriculum.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Funny, when I saw the phrase "hidden curriculum," I thought of what you listed here. "Curriculum" to me has become the standardized, numbers- and data-obsessed framework that's issued by the state while "hidden curriculum" is, as you said, the actual learning that takes place.

    I'm lucky because I teach English and in doing so really am naturally teaching my students to interpret, criticize, create, etc. The idea that everything is not what it seems is inherent in my subject; then again, it should be inherent in all subjects because as we all have learned in life is "nothing is that simple."

    To drive home the point, I have a sign posted above the door of my classroom that reads: "The meaning lies beneath the surface. The surface lies."

    I'll stop rambling now. This is a great list.

    1. I'm stealing that sign and posting it in my classroom, Tom.

    2. Go right ahead. I wish I could attribute it to someone. I got it from one of my own high school English teachers, but I can't remember who said it.

  2. Excellent list.

    It frustrates me that one must be subversive to implement this curriculum.

    I read this paragraph in today's NY Times. The author is addressing you writers:

    Now try turning a thought into a sentence. This is harder than it seems because first you have to find a thought. They may seem scarce because nothing in your education has suggested that your thoughts are worth paying attention to. Again and again I see in students, no matter how sophisticated they are, a fear of the dark, cavernous place called the mind. They turn to it as though it were a mailbox. They take a quick peek, find it empty and walk away.

    You curriculum will leave them with a full mailbox.

    1. I hope they have a full mailbox and I hope they will venture into that dark place even if it feels boring, uncomfortable or scary.

  3. It's unfortunate that these fairly basic ideas have become the hidden agenda. Too often lately everyone is pushing for better test scores and higher grades without cultivating the principles on your list that will serve the students much better. The art of discovery has been abandoned. We should be trying to encourage the students to learn for learning's sake, to make mistakes and to seek knowledge. I believe these things will truly help our students throughout their lives (and probably coincidentally lead to better test scores too). Keep up the good work, John!


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