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Hidden Curriculum

Hidden Curriculum
summarize the attached article by Linda Bain called The Hidden Curriculum
The hidden curriculum consists of implicit values taught and learned through the process
of schooling. The first section of this paper describes theoretical and methodological
approaches to research in this area, drawing examples from general education literature.
The second section reviews research related to the hidden curriculum in physical education.
The final section proposes a model for feminist analysis ofthe hidden curriculum
in sport and physical education.
The term “hidden curriculum” has been used extensively in educational literature
since the early 1970s to refer to “what is taught to students by the institutional regularities,
by the routines and rituals of teacher/student lives” (Weis, 1982, p, 3), Some time ago
I discussed the hidden curriculum in physical education in Quest 24 (Bain, 1975), Now,
a decade later, it seems appropriate to re-examine the topic in light of the research completed
since that time.
Interest in the hidden curriculum provided much of the early impetus for examining
the lived culture in schools and for use of qualitative research methodologies in educational
research, A review ofthe theoretical bases for this research may shed light not only
on the hidden curriculum but also on theoretical issues related to qualitative research.
Although the hidden curriculum in physical education has received only limited attention,
the research completed has extended our knowledge of the implicit values communicated
by physical education programs.
Approaches to the Study of the Hidden Curriculum
Four approaches to the study of the hidden curriculum can be identified in general
education literature. This review will rely primarily upon American authors, but it is important
to note that they were influenced by European social theory in general and British
sociology of education in particular. Although many researchers can be identified within
each of the four approaches. Table 1 identifies one representative work that exemplifies
each of the approaches being described,
Phillip Jackson (1966, 1968) conducted some of the earliest research on the topic
and popularized the term “hidden curriculum,” Jackson conducted intensive observations
of elementary school classrooms and noted that the day-to-day conduct of schooling seemed
to be a powerful mechanism for transmitting values and beliefs to children. He describes
About the Author: Linda L, Bain is with the Department of Health, Physical Education and
Recreation at the University of Houston, TX 77004,
146 BAIN
Table 1
Approaches to the Study of the Hidden Curriculum
1, Atheoretical
II, Functionaiist theory
III, Correspondence theory
IV, Critical theory of
reproduction and transformation
Mode of
Observation and
Theoretical anaiysis
Theoreticai analysis
Ethnographic and
studies and theoretical
Jackson, Ute in ClassrootDS,
Dreeben, On Wtiat is Learned
in Sctiools, 1968
Bowles & Gintis, Schooling in
Capitalist Arfierica, 1976
Appie & Weis, Ideology and
Practice in Schooling, 1983
those classrooms as characterized by crowds (the homogenous grouping of students), power
(the authority of the teacher and the powerlessness of students), and praise ( a teachercontrolled
system of evaluation). He suggests that students leam patience, acceptance of
impersonal prescriptive authority, and distinctions between work and play. Students also
leam to conform to institutional expectations but to maneuver in this setting by seeking
privilege through “apple polishing” and by hiding behaviors that might displease those
in authority, Jackson’s work could best be described as atheoretical in that he described
the events in classrooms without attempting to relate those descriptions to a theory about
schooling and society. While such work clearly has limitations, it served an important
role in raising the issue of the impact of the hidden curriculum. Debate ensued about whether
these routines and rituals of schooling were functional or dysftinctional, harmfiil or harmless.
Some early examinations of the effects of the hidden curriculum were based upon
a functionalist perspective which examined how the school prepares students for effective
participation in adult society, Robert Dreeben’s (1968) analysis of what is learned in schools
suggests that the hidden curriculum is an effective mechanism for teaching students essential
norms. Specifically he suggests that students leam the norms of independence, achievement,
universalism, and specificity. That is, students leam to work independently and to
accept responsibility for competing against a standard of excellence. Children also leam
to accept that in public life, in contrast to family life, one is treated by others as a member
of a category (universalism) and that the scope of one person’s interest in another is confined
to a narrow range specific to the purpose of the interaction (specificity). This permits
students to distinguish between persons and their social positions, a capacity Dreeben
describes as crucially important in occupational and political life. He suggests that schooling,
occupation, and politics are reasonably well integrated and that schools contribute to the
creation of capacities required by the political economic system.
Not everyone who examines the hidden curriculum sees it as beneficial to students.
Critics claim that the schools contribute to the maintenance of political and economic systems
of domination, exploitation, and inequality and that the hidden curriculum is a central aspect
of this process. Although several writers have proposed such a correspondence between
school and society, the most complete analysis was proposed by Bowles and Gintis (1976)
in Schooling in Capitalist America. They posit that through the day-to-day regularities
of schools, students learn social class de&iitions, the discipline of the workplace, the
legitimacy of hierarchical arrangements and loss of control over their own work. The correspondence
theory suggests that “the hierarchically structured patterns of values, norms,
and skills that characterize the work force and the dynamics of class interaction under
capitalism are mirrored in the social dynamics of the daily classroom” (Giroux, 1981a, p. 6).
It should be noted that both the functionalist and the correspondence analyses of the
relationship between schooling and society assume that certain meanings and values are
taught by schools without examining directly the meanings held by teachers and students.
Both also view the school as functioning to maintain society but they differ in their judgment
as to whether such a society is fundamentally just or unjust.
The most recent work on the hidden curriculum builds upon the neo-Marxist
analyses of the correspondence theorists, but rejects both their determinism and their treatment
of the school as a “black box” (Apple, 1979, 1982; Giroux, 1981a, 1981b). Apple
(1982, p. 14) argues that “schools are not ‘merely’ institutions of reproduction, institutions
where the overt and covert knowledge that is taught inexorably molds students into
passive beings who are able and eager to fit into an unequal society.” He suggests that
“student reinterpretation, at best only partial acceptance, and often outright rejection of
the planned and unplanned meanings of schools, are more likely.” For this reason, schools
contain the potential for both reproduction and transformation of society. To understand
the hidden curriculum one must study the lived culture of the school and analyze its relationship
to the structure of the larger society. Such research assumes that knowledge is
socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann, 1966) and begins with an analysis of meaning
that utilizes ethnographic and phenomenological studies. However, this analysis of meaning
is combined with an analysis of ideology and reproduction (Apple, 1978). The recent
work edited by Apple and Weis (1983) contains several examples of research employing
this analysis of both meaning and ideology. Other important examples are Paul Willis’s
Learning to Labour (1977), a study of working-class boys in a comprehensive secondary
school in England, and Robert Everhart’s (1983) Reading, Writing and Resistance, a study
of an American junior high school.
The steps involved in conducting research on schooling following this critical
theory model are outlined below. In contrast to the positivist approach which assumes
research to be value-free, this perspective sees all knowledge including research as socially
constructed and therefore begins with a clarification of the standpoint of the researcher.
Steps 2 and 3 take the researcher inside the “black box” of the school to observe behavior
and to discover its meaning to teachers and students. This microanalysis is followed by
a macroanalysis of the relationship of the lived culture to the reproduction or transformation
of class, race, and gender relations. Because the researcher is not assumed to be valuefree
but instead a politically committed person, the final step in the process is the identification
of actions which might assist in the transformation of schools and society, an
approach sometimes called emancipatory or radical pedagogy (Giroux, 1981a, 1981b).
The five steps in the implementation of a critical theory approach are these:
1. Identification of the standpoint of the researcher;
2. Description of patterns of behavior;
3. Analysis of the participants’ social construction of meanings;
4. Analysis of ideology and social relations;
5. Identification of action to assist transformation.
148 BAIN
Research on the Hidden Curriculum
in Physical Education
While little if any of the research on the hidden curriculum in physical education
has employed the approach just described, the steps outlined in that model serve as a useful
way to organize the review of the research. Almost all studies of the hidden curriculum
in physical education have assumed the positivist stance of value-free research and therefore
have not made the researcher’s standpoint explicit. Most of this work seems to be either
atheoretical or based upon a liberal functionalist perspective which endorses the basic justice
of a meritocratic society but calls for reforms to guarantee equal opportunity for all, A
few scholars have made explicitly critical analyses of sport in society (Boutilier & San
Giovanni, 1983; Gruneau, 1975; Hargreaves, 1982) but they have not included analysis
of pedagogical process in sport and physical education.
Some of the work on the hidden curriculum in physical education can best be
characterized as descriptions of patterns of behavior fitting step 2 ofthe model. My studies
of secondary physical education classes in Chicago (Bain, 1975, 1976) and of physical
education classes and athletic team practices in Houston (Bain, 1978) used systematic observation
to describe regularities of teacher behavior and class organization which communicated
values and norms to students. Male and female classes were compared hut no
attempt was made to examine the meanings that teachers and students attached to these
routines nor to examine their relationship to social theory. The research indicated there
are patterns of behavior in physical education classes that can be interpreted as emphasizing
orderliness, achievement, universalism, specificity, autonomy, and privacy, and that
differences exist between the experiences of male and female students, urban and suburban
students, and athletes and physical education students.
Recent work which examines the causes and effects of teacher expectations in
teaching and coaching performs a similar function of describing patterns of behavior (Martinek,
Crowe, & Rejeski, 1982). Although this work does not specifically address the hidden
curriculum, it has considerable relevance. In general the research on teacher expectations
in physical education indicates that teachers’ perceptions of students are influenced
by gender, appearance, and perceived effort, and that these expectations influence the interactions
between teacher and student in a way that is consistent with the teacher’s expectations
(Martinek, 1983),
The second set of research studies on the hidden curriculum in physical education
are those which have attempted not only to describe behavior but to examine the meanings
that participants attach to those experiences. These studies have employed ethnographic
and phenomenological research methodologies, Tindall (1975) conducted a participant observation
study of physical education classes and a community basketball program. His analysis
indicated that the game of basketball was experienced as a lesson in proper personal
behavior. The premise underlying the game, that individuals ought to and do control other
individuals, was accepted hy most students hut rejected by those for whom it conflicted
with their native American culture,
Wang (1977) conducted a participant observation study of a fifth grade physical
education class. She discovered a teacher-sponsored curriculum and a separate, contradictory
student-imposed curriculum. The teacher-sponsored curriculum promoted an ideal of integrated,
democratic living in which rules of individual worth were tempered with emphasis
upon cooperation, equality, and social responsibility. The student-imposed curriculum
revealed patterns of discrimination based on gender, race, social class, personality, and
skills. Skillful sport performance had a property-like nature in the student society, Wang
suggests that a more active instruction in skills might be the most effective way to counter
Kollen (1981,1983) conducted a phenomenological inquiry into the perceptions of
20 high school seniors regarding their physical education classes. Based on her interviews,
she concluded that the physical education environment is perceived as sterile (stressing
conformity) and unsafe (characterized by embarrassment and humiliation). Students respond
to the environment by “withholding something of themselves through minimal compliance,
lack of involvement, manipulation of the teacher, false enthusiasm, rebellion,
leaving, failing class, isolation or giving up” (Kollen, 1983, p. 87). Kollen suggests that
the movement standard in physical education is masculine-athletic-competitive and that
it creates a fi-agmented rather than an integrated movement experience.
Griffin (1983) observed sixth and seventh grade gymnastics classes and found
that students’ behavior revealed patterns of differentiation based on sex. Serious participation
in specific gymnastics events was governed by perceived sex appropriateness of the event.
Boys participated in “girl appropriate” events either frivolously or reluctantly; girls’ participation
in “boy appropriate” events was exploratory or reluctant. Boys limited the girls’
opportunity to learn by hassling them, and limited their own opportunity to learn by clowning.
Girls did not limit boys’ opportunity to learn but spent most of their time trying to
ignore boys or separate themselves from them. Students segregated themselves by sex
and reinforced that segregation by sex differentiated participation and interactions.
These ethnographic studies which address the social construction of meanings
in the physical education setting reflect an important step forward in the research. They
have extended our understanding of the hidden curriculum in those settings and have suggested
aspects of social relations such as gender which may have relevance for examining
that hidden curriculum. However, they have not attempted a systematic analysis of the
relationships of the lived culture of sport and physical education to social structure and
ideologies. Apple (1978, p. 500) suggests that such omission may in fact lend support
to the existing social order: “Without the overt recognition of the subtle connections between
ideology and meaning, research that is limited to a description of meaning could
itself be considered an aspect of reproduction.” For this reason, physical educators interested
in the hidden curriculum need to proceed to the final steps of the model, analysis
of ideology and determination of action. The final section of this paper will address this
Feminist Analysis of the Hidden Curriculum
in Physical Education
The fundamental goal of research on the hidden curriculum is not only to understand
the experience of schooling but also to comprehend the relationship between schooling
and society. We live in a patriarchal society in which the maintenance of gender roles
supplies society with the most basic form of hierarchical social organization and order
(Eisenstein, 1981). Patriarchal power results in sexual division of labor and a division
between the public (male) and private (female) domains of life. The critical component
of patriarchal ideology is the transformation of the biological role of woman as childbearer
into the political role of woman as childrearer. The assignment of motheAood as the primary
occupation of women in society has functioned to maintain and to legitimate the political
and economic inequities in patriarchal societies (Firestone, 1970).
Patriarchy interacts with the economic mode of society, but is a relatively autonomous
system operating alongside the economic system not derived from it. Patriarchy
150 BAIN
has thrived in feudalist, capitalist, and socialist societies. Nevertheless, to understand the
operation of patriarchy in a particular society one must examine it in relation to the structure
of that society. This analysis will focus upon patriarchy and sexism in the United
States, It should be noted that while this analysis focuses upon sexism, it is recognized
that the efforts of sexism interact with those of racism and class. The concentration upon
sexism is not intended to diminish the importance of either race or class,
American society can be characterized as a capitalist society based on an ideology
that has been identified as liberal because of its emphasis upon the values of independence,
individualism, and equality of opportunity, Jaggar and Struhl (1978) have identified four
approaches to feminism in America, Most widespread is a liberal feminism which endorses
the basic principles of the existing society and seeks to ensure that the doctrine
of equal opportunity is extended to include women. The assumption is that if women are
allowed equal access to education, employment, and political office, the present inequities
of status will disappear. The other three forms of feminism that Jaggar and Struhl identify
(Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism) assume that basic structural
changes in society are needed in order to eliminate patriarchy and the oppression of women,
although they differ on the kind of changes needed.
Most feminists, regardless of category, would concur that the system of patriarchy
and sexism is maintained both by force Gaws and practices that discriminate against women)
and by ideology (beliefs about gender that are accepted by men and women). The hidden
curriculum in schools may incorporate discriminatory practices and transmit a genderbased
belief system.
This gender-based ideology may be accepted or resisted by students and teachers,
Anyon (1982) suggests that gender development “involves not so much passive imprinting
as active response to social contradictions,” Girls have to cope with and resolve contradictory
social messages about appropriate behavior for females on the one hand and
appropriate behavior for achievers in the competitive world of school and work on the
other, Anyon suggests that their responses often involve both accommodation and resistance
to these contradictions.
Examining the hidden curriculum from a feminist perspective is particularly important
in physical education because ofthe strong association between sport and masculinity
(Boutilier & SanGiovanni, 1983) and because ofthe extreme “feminine” concern about
the appearance ofthe female body (Brownmiller, 1984; Chemin, 1981; Orbach, 1978),
The liberal feminist emphasis in such research tends to focus upon equal opportunity: girls’
access to instruction, practice, and playing time, A critical analysis must go beyond this
to an examination ofthe culture in physical education as it relates to and maintains patriarchy.
Several aspects of the lived culture in physical education seem worthy of study.
The way in which the individualistic, competitive performance environment affects males
and females is of particular importance, Willis (1982, p, 120) suggests that critical theory
“accepts differences in sport performance between men and women, accepts that cultural
factors may well enlarge this gap, but is most interested in the manner in which this gap
is understood and taken up in the popular consciousness of our society,” He asks why
some differences but not others are viewed as important. Why for example are differences
in strength important while differences in flexibility are not? Willis argues that sports performance
serves to reinforce ideology about male supremacy. He and others (Boutilier
& SanGiovanni, 1983; Felshin, 1974; Heide, 1978) have suggested that feminists may
need to redefine sport and its standards of performance if sexism is to be eliminated.
A second area to be investigated is the social construction of body image for males
and females, Heinemann (1980) proposes that the body is a social fact, that the handling
of the body, the regulation and control of its functions, and our attitudes toward it are
not “natural” but socially created, Willis (1982) indicates that the media treatment of
women in sport often has a sexual innuendo in which the sexual identity often takes
precedence over the sport identity of female athletes, Chemin (1981) suggests that women’s
obsession with diet and exercise reflects a dislike for the female body, KoUen (1981) found
that students in physical education classes experience self-consciousness and embarrassment
as a result of being continually on display. Each of these threads suggest that physical
education’s role in the development of body image needs to be examined.
The final aspect of the hidden curriculum in physical education that requires examination
fi-om a feminist perspective is the dualism which reflects and reinforces the separation
of the private and public domains of life. Such a division which sees the public domain
of work and politics as the man’s world and the private realm of the family and
emotion as the woman’s sphere is at the heart ofthe patriarchal system (Eisenstein, 1981),
This separation is ideologically represented by the dualisms of mind and body, instrumental
and expressive activity, and work and play. To the extent that physical education programs
refiect such dualisms, they may reinforce the sexual division of labor in society.
This paper has attempted to examine the theoretical bases for research on the
hidden curriculum, summarize related research in physical education, and propose a model
for feminist analysis of the hidden curriculum in sport and physical education. To some
extent, it refiects my own journey from a naive, atheoretical description of the hidden
curriculum to a radical feminist analysis of how patriarchal society is reproduced and
transformed in the process of schooling, particularly within sport and physical education.
This analysis has focused upon sexism, but pervasive effects of class and especially
race in sport and physical education should also be noted. Future examinations ofthe hidden
curriculum need to investigate each of these (gender, class, and race) not only separately
but in interaction with each other.
The final step in the critical theory model for research is the identification of action
which leads to transformation of society. One role of the research is to identify “gaps
and tensions” in the process of social reproduction which provide possibilities for political
action (Giroux, 1981a), Giroux (1981c, p, 218) states, “While it would be naive and
misleading to claim that schools alone can create the conditions for social change, it would
be equally naive to argue that working in schools does not matter,”

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