Unit 6 Gender Stereotyping in the hidden curriculum

Hidden curriculum

We all know that schools follow a certain official curriculum that is approved and consistent with clear learning objectives. However, there is another, unofficial type of curriculum, namely, the hidden curriculum which refers to the unwritten and potentially unintended lessons that pupils and students learn in school. It consists of all the implicit academic, social and cultural messages that are passed on to students throughout their school years. In contrast to the official curriculum, there are not any specific guidelines or lessons that are included in the hidden curriculum.

So where can we see the hidden curriculum? Here are some examples:

Cultural values: The values that are promoted and encouraged within a school are part of the hidden curriculum. Are stereotypes and biases being accepted and taken as the norm or are they being challenged?

Curricular topics: although the learning objectives in the official curriculum are specified, the lesson subjects are more flexible and they can provide different perspectives on the same issues. For example, with history, social studies, religious studies and others, the topics chosen for discussion and analysis in the classroom can result in students from different schools having different perspectives on the same subject (adopting a Eurocentric approach in teaching about the British Empire without discussing the perspectives of the colonised nations/people).

Institutional rules: Different institutional rules can affect students’ worldviews. For example, in regards to the freedom of expression, schools that do not use uniforms implicitly allow more space for individual expression through clothing, whereas schools with uniforms can be thought to provide a stronger sense of community due to this uniformity.

Hidden curriculum (continued) - Texts, resources & everyday language

Text analyses of academic resources had taken place towards the latter decades of the 20th century which Sunderland perceived as portraying females as victims of male dominance. Nevertheless it is important to note two main themes shown in these texts:

  1. verbs associated with girls and women included stereotypical representations of their gender;
  2. in dialogues, girls and women spoke less and rarely opened up the dialogue.

Sunderland proposed that there is a dynamic relationship among students, teachers and teaching materials and this is where the hidden curriculum becomes important. The way these and other non-biased texts will be used in the classroom is what is important. Putting a positive and realistic spin on potentially gender biased texts taught in classrooms, Sunderland (2000) argued that a text in itself does not define how it will be treated by teachers and students alike. This means that even a gender biased text can be used in a classroom in a pedagogic way as long as the teacher uses it this way.Sunderlands’ (2000) theoretical framework is summarised below in a figured copied directly the article:

Finally, everyday language is also very important. Gender stereotypes can easily be reinforced through the use of everyday language that can go unchallenged if not noticed. Lifting Limits, a charity aiming at challenging gender stereotypes in schools (Gender stereotypes in schools – Lifting Limits), provides some examples of this:

  • Telling a boy to “man up” to deal with bullying;
  • Aiming to insult students by referring to them as “girls”;
  • Telling a girl that she should not pick up a box of books as “this is a boy’s job”.

Other examples include:

  • “Football is not for girls”;
  • “Ask mummy to sign the form”;
  • “I need to strong boys to help us move the table”
  • “I saw the lady doctor today”.

All these different examples of reinforcing gender stereotypes in schools, alongside the existing stereotypes outside the classroom result in a compounded effect for girls and women that have been discussed throughout this course (i.e. career choices, life choices, violence against women and girls).

Sunderland (2000)

How to avoid gender stereotypes: Eleanor Tabi Haller-Jordan at TEDxZurich