The term “hidden curriculum” refers to an amorphous collection of “implicit academic, social, and cultural messages,” “unwritten rules and unspoken expectations,” and “unofficial norms, behaviours and values” of the dominant-culture context in which all teaching and learning is situated. These “assumptions and expectations that are not formally communicated, established, or conveyed” stipulate the “right” way to think, speak, look, and behave in school. Since the hidden curriculum invisibly governs academic achievement, it is vital for every student to learn its lessons.
Practical Problems with the Hidden Curriculum
Unfortunately, not all students have access to such thorough college priming. Students coming from under-resourced high schools often lack college knowledge and rigorous academic preparation and therefore may be unfamiliar with the mandate of the hidden curriculum. They consequently can struggle or even fail to persist in college. Students specifically at risk tend to be from historically underrepresented populations, including first in their families to attend college, multilingual, of color, of nontraditional age, from lower socioeconomic status communities, and from immigrant backgrounds. Because not all students are “born into conditions that easily allow them to acquire linguistic practices that are understood as norms leading to common academic assessment standards,” existing evaluatory practices may be invalid and unfair. If these vulnerable student populations are disproportionately disadvantaged by institutional policies and practices, and educators unconsciously align to the hidden curriculum, this reflects implicit bias.
The Hidden Curriculum in Writing Classes
Strategies for Promoting Equity in the Classroom
Because institutions reflect the way “social systems work against entire groups of people to maintain the unequal distribution of opportunity, wealth, and justice,” writing teachers have a responsibility to do our parts to stop perpetuating the cycle of education inequity in our classrooms.
Resources & Reading on First-Gen Students
- Opened in 2021, the Newbury Center aims to support first-generation college students at BU and will offer training to faculty in supporting these students in their classrooms. The Newbury Center was preceded by First Gen Connect, a program that attempted to connect first-generation students with faculty and staff around the university who were first-gen students themselves.
- FY 101 offers greater support for students as they begin university life; while all first-years can benefit from the program, there is often a section set aside for first-gen students, if they would like to enroll.
- Faculty may also consider listening to “The Not-So-Golden Ticket,” a podcast by Nikita Sethi (CAS 21) which spotlights the experience of low-income students (more broadly) at BU.
- Dueñas, Mary, Alberta M. Gloria. “¡Pertenecemos y tenemos importancia aquí! Exploring Sense of Belonging and Mattering for First-Generation and Continuing-Generation Latinx Undergraduates.” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences (2020), Vol. 42(1), 95–116.
The writers offer an important look into belonging and mattering, two of the “intangibles” that are so key to first-gen student success.
- Edwards, C. W. (2019). Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Stereotype Threat: Reconceptualizing the Definition of a Scholar. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 18(1).
Edwards provides a beautiful, compelling, first-person account of the author’s own intersection experience. As she notes, during her education, “People who were low-income, first-generation, Black, and female were rarely in positions of leadership or power in the educational spaces I frequented.”
- Inoue, Asao. Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. University Press of Colorado, 2019.
While not directly about first-gen students, Inoue’s work calls into question the practice of downgrading students who deviate in their writing from what he calls the “dominant academic discourse” and provides an important perspective when considering students who may be less familiar with the expected register of higher ed.
- Martin, Julie P., et al. “Understanding first-generation undergraduate engineering students’ entry and persistence through social capital theory.” International Journal of STEM Education (2020) 7:37.)
The authors signal a move reflected more broadly in the scholarship on first-gen students from a deficit-based framework to an asset-based framework, here considering the complex networks of relationships that first-gen students bring.
Cataldi, E. F., C.T. Bennett, and X. Chen. First-generation students college access, persistence, and postbachelor’s outcomes. Stats in Brief, NCES 2018-421, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 2018.
Gorski, P. Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap. Teachers College Press, 2013.
Haskins, J. Why first-generation students don’t go to their advisors–and how to get them there. EAB, 2016.
Jack, A. “(No) harm in asking: Class, acquired cultural capital, and academic engagement at an elite university.” Sociology of Education, vol. 89, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-19.
Nunn, Lisa. “Articulating Your Pedagogical Rationale.” 33 Simple Strategies for Faculty: A Week-By-Week Resource for Teaching First-Year and First-Generation Students, Rutgers, 2019.
RTI International. “First-generation college students: Demographic characteristics and postsecondary enrollment.” Center for First-generation Student Success, NASPA, 2019.
Steward, C., and J. Low. “Mastering the hidden curriculum: 1-credit course.” Center for First-generation Student Success, NASPA, 2019.
Winkelmes, M. ”Transparency in Learning and Teaching.” TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources, 2014.