Brief Political Musings: The “Hidden Curriculum” of America

This month for brief political musings, I am going to talk about something that I think is vital for Americans to understand when discussing things such as race—especially the perceived sucesses of racial minorities. In order for me to do that, I have to make an analogy between concepts I have read about in books this summer and American society.

I am currently halfway through a book entitled The Poverty and Education Reader, edited by Gorksi & Landsman. This book is an anthology of writings by educators and students who have grown up in poverty—and who have seen the kinds of astronomically poor education kids in poverty-stricken communities receive, as well as how that unequal distribution of opportunities keeps so many people stuck in the cycle of poverty. One of the widely discussed concepts in this book is called, “the hidden curriculum” of public education, and part of this hidden curriculum includes the expectation that in order to build “cultural and social capital” in school, or basically, in order for minority children to become successful, those kids need to adopt middle-class, white values and deny their own diverse culture. In one of the stories, a now-adult talks about growing up as a poor, Appalachian child in school. She said, “They thought the best thing they could possibly do for me was to teach me to be like them—or as one teacher actually suggested in her kindest teacher voice, I needed to ‘learn to act White.’ I knew what that meant. If I wanted success, I’d have to adopt their language and culture and deny my own. I did what they asked; I learned to pass. Passing is a treacherous road to travel.”

An analogy can be made between the hidden curriculum in schools, and the “hidden curriculum” in American society. A comparison I hear quite often in political discourse, is between the perceived success of Asian Americans in society and the perceived success of African Americans in society—both of which have been oppressed throughout history (oppression in this case being specifically Asian internment camps and the enslavement in black people). The thing that people who make this comparison fail to note is the fact that post-internment camps, Asian Americans slowly began to adopt the “white, middle-class culture.” This means that Asian Americans currently adopt the fashion, language, music tastes, traditions, and even things as seemingly trivial as baby names and slang of white Americans (ex: My new neighbors are Asian American—their son’s name is Kevin). This idea can be adopted to articulate that even descendants of those with white skin who have historically been oppressed in various ways, such as Irish indentured servants in the 17th & 18th centuries, have 100% assimilated into the dominant culture of America as well, which means that not only are there no marked differences between white people of Irish descendants and white people descended from other cultures, but also that we don’t perceive them to be less successful, professional, or intelligent because of the culture they retain—which is an idea that is certainly not applicable to African Americans and the Hispanic population of America.

You see, African Americans and the Hispanic populations in our country do retain many of their own mannerisms, languages, fashion, art, music, food, names, traditions etc. etc. that are completely separate from something that you would see where I live—predominately white suburbs, which, especially adopt the “dominant culture” in America. I think what is important to gather here, is that African Americans are not only perceived to be so much less successful than Asian Americans, but that the dominant culture in America has taken certain measures to make it much harder for black people to do things like get a job, assuming they have not gone considerable lengths to “act white.” The fact is, if a black person has a name that “sounds black,” then they are less likely to get called in for a job interview than someone whose name sounds white, and if a black person is called into an interview, they are also less likely to get the job if they don’t speak “like a white person” or if they wear their hair naturally.

This, and the fact education in poverty stricken schools is disgustingly unequal from the schools you might find in a middle-class area (to the point where teachers don’t show up for school, substitutes are scarce, textbooks are from decades ago, there’s little to no technology, science & sports equipment, or art supplies, and the building may be in disrepair—0r other horribly desolate circumstances), make the idea that everyone in this country can achieve what they want simply by working hard a shoddy one at best, and an illogical one objectively. This unequal education not only has devastating effects on children’s ability to go into higher education (a feat that has been proven to require preparation starting in the middle schools years—preparation that is scarcely provided in low-income communities), but also hinders these children’s ability to do well in other opportunities that they receive in life, depending on what those opportunities may be or if they present themselves.

Quality of education and economic class are closely related—so is, however, the “hidden curriculum” that our schools have adopted, and the “hidden curriculum” that our society has adopted. Understanding the nature of socioeconomic class (especially ones other than your own), is the first step in being able to accurately vote on things such as economic and social legislation, and I implore anyone who reads this to do their best to do so.



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