The Hidden Curriculum
I first came across the term hidden curriculum as a sociology student studying education. It refers to all the things you learn in school, but aren’t expressly taught, such as social norms and values. The hidden curriculum was used as an explanation for why students of different race, gender, and social class have different outcomes even when exposed to the same classroom setting.
Then I lived in France when I was twenty, and I learned that this concept needn’t be applied just to education, but as a way of understanding cultural differences. Sometimes rules are expressly taught, or laws, and other times it seems like people just know when something is inappropriate.
I’ve since lived in a few different cultures, and I’ve learned to observe closely when somebody does something unexpected. The chances are that I’m the one who is acting out of the ordinary.
Take driving, for instance. Since we arrived here, driving has been a fraught experience for me. Between avoiding kombi buses, and aggressive windscreen washers, my heart races as though I’m in a war zone. I soon noticed that drivers here use their hazard lights for different purposes to elsewhere in the world. While they are still used to indicate a hazard, or that the driver must stop suddenly, people also use them as a thank you to another driver who allows them into their lane, for instance.
Upon learning this information, I decided to adopt this method too. Indeed, now it makes sense to flash my hazards, and I’ll have to relearn not to do that when I move, lest I bring traffic to an abrupt halt everywhere I go.
But there are other social norms I’ve learned that I reject. It is very common here to see children without seatbelts or car safety seats, but I haven’t adopted that as a way for my family. Of course, the safety aspect overrides any desire I have to fit in.
When I go to the gym here, I’ve noticed that the changing room culture is quite different to other places I’ve lived. I don’t consider myself particularly puritanical for an American or Englishwoman, but I was surprised by the difference between changing room behaviour here and elsewhere.
In England, after taking a shower, we keep our towel wrapped around us for as long as possible. When It comes time to drop it, we turn and face the wall or locker and dress hurriedly. We may still talk to a friend or acquaintance during this time, but there is no requirement for eye contact(!) and we tend to focus on the task at hand.
At the gym I attend here, things are quite different. Women use their towels to stand on, sit on, or wrap around their hair, but covering the body seldom happens. They tend to face one another in conversation, and are just as casual and comfortable as if dressed.
Now, if I wanted to make friends in the gym, I know that I’d have to adopt these practices myself. Instead, I find myself modestly choosing a changing booth with a locked door to get dressed. This behaviour must no doubt appear odd to everybody there. If nothing else, it highlights me as an outsider.
For Pudding, life is going to be complicated. Not only are there all these hidden rules and expectations that might not seem relevant to her, but even if she were interested in learning to fit in, we move every two or three years to a whole new culture.
How is she to decide what is worth paying attention to, or what values she should accept or discard when these things change all the time? Or will she become really good at this? Will she develop a chameleon-like ability to adapt to other cultures, even if she feels like an outsider at times?
Lately I’ve seen Pudding learn some new little things that haven’t been expressly taught to her. She sees when it is time for dinner, and goes to set the table. She took off her shoes waiting to go on a bouncy castle, and lined them up with those of the other children.
Whether she becomes really good at learning the hidden curriculum, or never develops an interest in it, our job is to make sure that home is always a place where she can be herself, no matter where that is. And that is something that need never be hidden.
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