From Archives: Hidden Curriculum

Careful what you support?

On the Media, July 12, 2013

The NPR program On the Media is amongst my favorite sources of media on the media.  This particular story was of particular interest to me as I listened to it just after finishing the previous post.  The link is at

Capitalism and religion and indoctrination by omission, July 12, 2013

My last post regarding Gulen schools ended with reference to indoctrination and the claim that it is not only the Gulen schools that administer a hidden curriculum.  In American schools, the public schools, much that is worthwhile, important, critical to opening minds to the full range of possibilities, is omitted and the omissions need to be made visible and a part of the conversation that shapes education and the conversation that needs to be taking place in schools serving democracies.  Amongst the most obvious omissions that are never discussed because the many have become so used to their being omitted that there presence would seem nothing less than out of place.  Amongst these omitted topics are capitalism and, even to a more hidden degree, religion, the first because it may be one of the most important forces in the daily lives of citizens in nations where it prevails, the second because few want to broach a subject so sensitive because it is allowed to hid under a shield of sensitivity.

Capitalism is mentioned in many ways throughout the curriculum, but few teachers really offer critical discussion of the matter, and the discussion would really matter if it were allowed to be discussed in anything resembling an honest way.  For the most part, most members of the American society know that the economic system of the American nation is a capitalist system.  But what the consequences of capitalism are for a democratic nation is hardly if ever discussed.  How it is that those who govern themselves decide to allow themselves to live in poverty or work harder for diminishing returns, insure that the very rich have considerably more than they really need, whatever way one wants to define need, and that the very rich are able to use their wealth to gain power, power that can and is used to manipulate the political system in their favor, is a question Americans should be asking themselves and asking those who educated them to be so oblivious to what is being done to them in their own name.

Certainly those who want capitalism to be treated in less than honest and reasonably critical ways have a right to say what they will and participate in the decision making processes of the society.  But all need to have the ability to understand what the consequences of such a system are for themselves and it is not very democratic when wealth controls the public discourse and, ever more, the educational system that should help all individuals develop skills related to fully participation in the process, in understanding where to find information and how to deliberate effectively upon the meaning of that information so that they can make decisions that are sensible.  If it really is that Americans are making sensible decisions based on good information effectively deliberated upon, then ignore this argument.  But, if a reader can find any signs in the society that citizens are not as well informed as they should be and that they do not engage in sense making deliberation, then the good and patriotic citizen will demand that the schools be commanded, by the people, to do what is necessary to change the system.

Religion has much to do with the problem of ineffectual deliberation because it allows individuals to treat the supernatural as real and, in our society, understandings tainted by reference to forces unseen for their validation, makes impossible the sensible conversation described above, one based in good information processed by critical minds to discover the truths upon which societal decisions should be made.  Anyone has a right to believe in anything they wish to believe in, perhaps, but, when those beliefs play a role in the way an individual comes to reality and such understandings become a part of the public discourse, become a part of the societal decision making process, than like any other kind of “reasoning” that leads to claims, claims and reasoning based on religious beliefs must be questions and believers who put forth religion based claims must answer those questions if what is said is to be taken seriously.  At this point in time, it is seen as impolite and worse to question religious beliefs even if they serve as the basis for claims that figure into decisions made that effect all.  If claims based in religion are to be allowed to play a role in the decision making processes then the basis for such claims deserves to be questioned.  However, the questioning of religion is not a school sponsored activity.  In fact, more often than not, whether overtly or through the kind of conversations that are and are not allowed in schools, religion somehow is make to be understood as a force of good in the world.  And it may be, and it may not be, but whether it is or is not is a topic that must be discussed by people free to offer claims, claims hopefully derived from a process of sensible deliberation using good information, the claim maker called upon and able to articulate a sensible explanation that would allow sensible individuals to see the truth value in the claim.

Does indoctrination by omission really exist and is this indoctrination of consequence.  I argue that it does exist, though omission is difficulty to see, that the omission is deliberate to an extent, and that it is very much of consequence for the way we live and the way we make decisions important to our lives in this society.  I think honesty is critical to sensible discussion and problem-solving in any society and, though honesty may produce results that seem harsh, citizens of a democracy need to remember that governing is never an easy thing to do.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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