Hidden Curricula

For many home educators, the word ‘curriculum’ has a faintly disreputable air. The idea is that some families use a curriculum, while others do not. For those who believe that they are rejecting a curriculum for their children’s education, curricula are represented as being a little like straitjackets which limit and restrict education to a pre-determined course. Schools have a curriculum, but enlightened home educators work in a more open and organic way, allowing children to follow and explore their own interests. This is so utterly absurd, that one wonders how any grown person could express such nonsense while keeping a straight face!

All families are possessed of mythoi. These can be as elaborate as the Arthurian legends or so simple that they may be summed up in one or two words. What sort of mythos might an ordinary family have, whether schooling or home educating? A typical one might be, ‘We are musical’. The parents are keen on music, listen to it a lot and perhaps play instruments and go to concerts. Children raised in such a family often learn to play the piano. Although it is seldom stated explicitly, music is assumed to be a good thing, which is a big part of life. Other families might be ‘rational’ or ‘spiritual’. Perhaps they are the ‘scientific’ type, or maybe ‘plain, straightforward folk’. Because these sets of myths pervade the family, they are often unnoticed by the individual members. Children raised in a ‘rational and scientific’ family are being instructed and indoctrinated in a belief system and set of myths just as thoroughly as the child brought up in a strictly observant Muslim or Jewish household. The same goes for the child brought up by those who value creativity, homosexuality, socialism or a host of other ideologies, prejudices and beliefs. There is no such thing as a neutral upbringing. We all of us shape our children from birth in various ways and point them in the directions we wish them to go.

Even when an effort is made not to pass on their own beliefs, the very life that their parents lead, tells their children what is valued, what regarded as good and acceptable. This can be done in simple ways by being scrupulous about recycling, by running a vegetarian kitchen, attending church or tutting disapprovingly when racism is mentioned on the television news.

This then is the hidden curriculum to which every child in the country is taught, whether she attends school or is educated at home. The family’s own mythos permeates every aspect of the developing child’s life and without anybody being aware of the fact, pushes and pulls her in some directions, while propagating powerful taboos which prevent her from exploring other possible identities which she might wish to assume. The great misconception under which many parents labour is that they are able to provide a neutral background for their child, one in which the child is free to be herself and develop according to her own inner dynamic. This is a falsehood. We can certainly tinker with the prejudices to which the child is exposed and attempt to conceal our own likes and dislikes, but unless this is done very skilfully, the child will spot the pretence and the parents will be revealed as liars and hypocrites.

Of course, there are those happy parents whose belief system and values are so perfect and enlightened, that none of this matters. They are pleased and satisfied with the subliminal messages that they are sending to their children and have an idea that nothing could be more liberal and reasonable than the ideas which their own children are acquiring as a consequence of their upbringing. For the rest of us, it is a problem. We realise that we are teaching our children according to a curriculum every bit as detailed and inflexible as the National Curriculum. How we can work against this will be the subject of my next post, which will look at the vital need to produce a broad and balanced curriculum for children and to apply it methodically in every part of our children’s lives.

While we are on the subject of mythoi, I should perhaps mention that every child in a family also acquires her own personal mythology and that this can be every bit as damaging as the overall family mythos. Mary is a ‘loving child’, Joshua is ‘practical’, Emily is ‘brainy’, James is ‘creative’ and so on. Even when not explicitly stated in the child’s presence, these individual mythic characters affect how children are treated, the experiences which their parents arrange for them, the hopes and aspirations which others have for them.

No parent is free of all the things which I have described above. There are really only two choices. We can pretend that this is not happening and act as though there is no hidden curriculum for our children or we can acknowledge that this is the reality and work to devise a curriculum which is specifically aimed at countering our own influences. A curriculum which will be balanced and ensure that our children have an opportunity to take directions which we would never have dreamed of and which might run counter to our own values and way of life. It is at this, the need for a detailed curriculum at which I shall next be looking.


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