The Unwelcome Silent Curriculum

We have all heard about the "silent curriculum". The curriculum we want to teach, but for which standards do not exist. This curriculum usually revolves around respect, responsibility, caring and character development. I want to take a few minutes and reflect on what else is oftentimes taught implicitly by many teachers (including yours truly, although I am working on it). Let me be clear, these are things that are often taught implicitly in schools, even though most of us would be against them. I hope this post causes you to reflect on your own practices and what implicit messages you send your students.

1) Understanding quickly is more important than understanding deeply. Many teachers quiz students on their understanding along the path of learning and assess homework for understanding. These assessments are often entered as static fixtures of students' overall grades. Yet, isn't the purpose of homework to encourage or assist learning? Isn't a quiz given half way through a unit designed to inform both the teacher and the student of learning progress? We admit these are road markers toward an end goal, but then we treat them as final destinations. Perhaps we need to put fewer marks in the grade book and send the message to students that learning is a process and you will not be penalized if you do not understand quickly.

2) Completing work is more important than learning. How many of our students fail our courses because they do not turn in their homework? Or, perhaps even worse, how many students are getting A's just because they complete all the work or do a crap ton (that is bigger than a metric ton) of extra credit. I was always told an A was for achieving at exceptional levels, I just didn't realize "exceptional" meant "get your work in on time".

3) Learning = Memorizing. Yes, there are some things students must remember, but the periodic table? A classification scheme? I would rather have students be able to USE these things than have them memorized.

4) Learning is supposed to be fun. Yes, we want to engage kids, but if we focus on entertaining students, we lead them to believe that learning is fun. I want my students to realize that learning is rewarding, but that it is also hard work. Hard work worth doing.

That is all for now. I am sure I'll post some more parts to the "unwelcome silent curriculum" at some future date. I hope these have given you some food for thought.

Post some of your insights about negative implicit messages in the comments.


  1. I agree with your points, but, again I often find myself stuck in the "cycle." The students have learned these things and learned them well. If I divert from them, there is a backlash. Example: I want to teach for understanding, so I have "no consequence" assignments, or practice assignments that precede graded ones. Most of my students take this as their queue to not do it at all, not as an opportunity to make mistakes, ask questions and learn.

    I find the parents are programmed to expect these things also. If it doesn't fit the "mold" it isn't education.

    Of course I don't want to give up, but these students actually refuse to learn things deeply. They want the fast-food "tricks" to get an answer and anything diverting from this is lost.

  2. Maybe #4 should be "Learning is supposed to be easy fun," making a distinction between that and "hard-earned fun" (much the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a distinction between "cheap grace" and "costly grace").

  3. We lead them to believe that learning is fun?? If we actually did that more people would be in careers that they love instead of jobs that are just "work."

    Hard work can be fun if you are doing something that you love. Hard work that is not fun lead to learning that is hated. I love to split would all day, I love to turn over my garden. Both back breaking chores.

    The difference is the value the person places in the final product. I hate ironing. I think it is a huge waste of time to be wrinkle free, I see no value in a wrinkle free shirt.

    I see great value in sweating my butt off to plant my garden, I see great value in the end product.

    Give the kids authentic creative assignments that provide them with autonomy and responsibility and teach them to do hard work that they value, and maybe, have some fun doing it.

  4. > Learning = Memorizing

    A memorized fact is a useful tool.

  5. But not knowing under what context that tool is valuable or useful makes the learning impotent.

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