Academic journal article High School Journal

The "Hidden" Corridor Curriculum

Academic journal article High School Journal

The "Hidden" Corridor Curriculum

Article excerpt

Described in this paper is the "hidden" corridor curriculum which emerged in two urban high schools. This curriculum was rooted in a youth culture of hostility produced by teenagers in response to chronic joblessness, institutional breakdowns, and the demise of public safety nets in inner cities. It conveyed social lessons about illicit practices of acquisition; rituals of violence; corrosive images of coolness; codes of racism and racial separatism; and norms of gender antagonisms. Rather than offer possibilities for transformative social change, the hidden corridor curriculum spread the seeds of social destruction.


Researchers since the late 1960s have focused attention on how the hidden curriculum in classrooms transmit implicit social lessons which perpetuate social inequalities. Virtually absent in this research are in-depth explorations of the destructive social lessons passed along by students in hallways, lunchrooms, and other corridor spaces. These lessons not only are left unexamined in the literature, but also are often hidden from view by school personnel who cannot or will not address their consequences.

Presented in this paper are lessons of the hidden corridor curriculum which emerged in two urban public high schools called Jefferson High and Central City High (pseudonyms). This curriculum was rooted in a youth culture of hostility constructed by teenagers in response to the harsh realities and corrosive media images of their lives in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. As will be shown, this curriculum conveyed social lessons about socioeconomic advancement, and race and gender relations which had devastating consequences for students and their communities.

The Hidden Curriculum

The term "hidden curriculum" was coined by Philip Jackson (1968) to refer to the unofficial 3 Rs -- Rules, Routines, and Regulations -- which structure life in classrooms. In order to make their way satisfactorily through school, students must learn how to wait for things, curry special favors, be alone in a crowd, and otherwise go along with implicit procedural expectations. Snyder (1971) characterized the hidden curriculum as covert tasks which produce unplanned lessons that students must master in order to cope with daily classroom demands. These lessons are "ghosts haunting classrooms" which have invisible yet real consequences for students. Students who fail to deal with the specter of the hidden curriculum run the risk of school failure.

Neo-Marxist scholars in the 1970s went a step further in exposing the larger social consequences of the hidden curriculum. Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that this curriculum is differentiated in ways which reproduce unequal social class relations. Working-class students are often placed in lower-track classes where they are subjected to degrading, mechanical learning tasks which mirror factory work. Students from affluent families are more likely to be educated in selective schools or upper-track classes where teachers convey social lessons intended to prepare them for their presumed roles as professionals and authorities. Classroom procedures thus vary between schools and tracks, and correspond rather closely with procedures in the work place.

Vallance (1980) adds the observation that the hidden curriculum not only operates to "civilize the working classes," but also to reinforce other social inequalities. She encourages researchers, particularly qualitative researchers, to use the hidden curriculum rubric to analyze racism, sexism, and other oppressive qualities of school socialization processes. While they did not always use the term hidden curriculum in their analyses, scholars proceeded to describe in some detail how academic and vocational tracks were organized in a manner which ensured that racial minorities and girls were being socialized into positions of powerlessness, or channeled into low-status work roles (Metz, 1986; Page, 1987; Valli, 1986). …

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