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Resource Room Home > Older Students>Big Ideas, Big Realities

The "Big Ideas" and the Big Realities of the Hidden Curriculum


It's a good idea to keep "big ideas" in mind when we're teaching. In content areas, these are things like the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, or that positives and negatives tend to balance each other out, or that different cultures have class structures based on status and power.

There are other big ideas, though, that are even more important. These are the lessons on the unwritten curriculum that drive what teachers expect from students on a day-to-tay basis -- the curriculum of responsibility and time management and expecting the best from yourself, which is often learned through difficult rites of passage such as The Tenth Grade Research Paper.

When teachers hesitate to accommodate a student with a disability, it's often sincere, with that unwritten curriculum in mind. A silent and sometimes passive-aggressive battle ensues, with parents, students and teachers wrangling over legalities.

Sometimes it may be better to directly address that hidden "scope and sequence" of skills. What many of these teachers don't realize is that some students get on a totally different "scope and sequence" of academic and survival skills, so that what should be teaching them one thing is teaching them something else entirely.

Try asking, "Are you reluctant to provide this accommodation because you feel it would keep my child from learning independence and responsibility?" and then suggest that you think this is very important and you will gladly map out a path to that independence, but you do not want to sacrifice all the other goals of education for that one.

Here are some elements of the "unwritten curriculum" - and its other side.

  • You are asked to do impossible things. Somehow, you figure out how to do them. That's how you learn independence and confidence and that it's better to face difficult things and tackle them, than to run away from them.

    You are asked to do impossible things. They're impossible. You fail. You find out that life goes on.

  • If you really work at understanding the assignments, the tests end up being easier.

    You can't understand this stuff, much less remember it for a test. Get through each assignment at a time. Get enough points to compensate for low test grades.

  • A well-planned project is a lot of work, but you can do well if you get started early.

    Oh, &^%. A Project. Well, it's not due for a while, right?

  • Tests are like a sports match or a battle you need to win. There are rules and the other guy can be cunning. They're stressful - but you learn to deal with the stress and win.

    Tests are games, but the refs don't like you anyway. Telling you to practice harder is a waste of time.

  • Most of the people in the class have no idea what the teacher is talking about in this subject. You do. You are too cool to say you like it, but your good grades are proof of your intelligence.

    Most of the people in the class know exactly what the teacher is talking about, but you don't! You are too cool to say you don't get it, so you hope you can fake it well enough to pass the tests.

  • This is all going to build up and become a great amount of good grades and knowledge and wisdom that you'll use for the rest of your life.

    This is all going to build up and you're going to be discovered for the stupid person you really are.

  • Teachers have no idea what life is really like... but, they are your path to succeeding in school, which is your path to a good job, and some of them are worth a little respect.

    Teachers have no idea what life is really like. They are clueless. If you're going to be successful, it's going to be outside these walls!

  • Language is incredibly powerful, versatile, enlightening and liberating.

    Nobody really uses big words but teachers and even they don't really know what they mean.

  • Hard work pays off. Perseverance and determination are extremely valuable (and getting rarer, it seems).

    You really, really might win the lottery this time.



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