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The Hidden Curriculum

In our civilisation, compulsory schooling - for better or for worse - dominates the timetable of childhood.

From the tender age of around 5, right through to young adulthood, most of the day for most of the year is taken up with schooling. If you include kindergarten and childcare, you can start the count at age 4, 3, 2, or even 1.

Whatever children need during all this time away from home is what FCS aims to provide. Schools today, by default, for most children, replace both the village community and the extended family.

Officially, a school exists to teach children the necessary skills to be employable - reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. This is the curriculum.

But the official curriculum is only the tip of the learning iceberg. Because of the molding power of this second home, the child will inevitably acquire other learning too – attitudes, behaviours, and a particular view of the world.

This deeper conditioning is brought about by the daily lifestyle of school and the interpersonal regime that prevails amongst the people who occupy the school environment. This is the hidden curriculum. [This phrase was given to the world by Ivan Illich in his classic book Deschooling Society.]

Despite its awesome influence on lives, the hidden curriculum is rarely discussed.


The tone of the transactions between adults (staff and parents at school) and children is set by the educator-in-charge. The quality of the leadership can make or break a school.

The behaviour and attitudes of the students are also influenced by the design of the school – the physical arrangements and the timetable.


As far as personal input is concerned, adult example is the most potent factor in socialisation. If our behaviour does not agree with our teachings, it’s the behaviour that will be copied. 

Children mimic adults in ruthless detail. The underlying biological principle is that if we “oldies” have survived this long with a given modus operandi, then it must work and should be emulated.

That is why adult-adult relations within the school must be positive and affirming. It is also why the educator hires staff who genuinely value their subjects - whether music, maths, or literature. The children will take notice of whether we treasure a subject far more than the content of the particular textbooks we use.

We experienced elders know that positive human relations is the single most important ingredient in both home life and work life. You cannot teach this to children by simply saying it – even if you say it a thousand times.


It is by actually living a code of conduct that you successfully impart it. When a school activity is failing to achieve its purpose, FCS teachers suspend the activity and discuss what’s happening and why. When everybody is again focused on the purpose, we resume the activity.

We do not forge ahead, heedless of the outcome - simply because the timetable says “French”. Entering into the spirit of the activity is always implicitly on the timetable, and takes priority – even if you can’t see the word “spirit” actually written in every slot of the timetable.

This daily way of life, of having the mind in tune with the body, intentions in tune with actions, personal behaviour in tune with the group purpose, has certain easily discernible effects.

The most important effect ultimately is that it produces effective people - or, in the vernacular, “together people”.


More immediate effects are seen in the academic outcomes and the teaching methods.

Despite spending less time in class than the average school, we consistently achieve greater outcomes. Longer-term outcomes include love of learning, and habits of study which carry through to higher levels of learning and later life. But superior outcomes can also be seen immediately in a variety of external assessments such as the Vic Ed Dept AIM tests and the University of NSW school tests in English, Math and Science.

These academic spin-offs occur simply because the time we spend in class is fruitful. When the teacher goes to the trouble of centering the students for each lesson, having them enter into the spirit of the activity, far more is achieved.

So what may prima facie appear to some as a waste of time, winning hearts and minds to the pursuit of knowledge and skill, turns out to be far more efficient, even at the level of objective assessment.

This is why we consistently say to parents of Tinies (beginners) that we do not undertake to wade through a promised amount of curriculum in the first year, because we are devoting whatever effort and time it takes to get them to engage positively in the purposes and protocols of school life.


The other notable effect of engaging in the spirit of learning is that we do not find it necessary to disguise, decorate, or in any way apologise for the subjects we teach. Our English and Maths for example are presented directly as skills enjoyable in their own right.

Nor do we expect young children to make judgments about the true worth of whatever material we may try to teach them. This is our job as their elders - those who have gone before. They have not lived long enough to make such judgments.

Children have a biological instinct to value what we value. If we present Maths and English as treasures, they receive them as treasures, and will happily acquire the skills without sugar coating.

Contrary to the prevailing practice of trying to teach incidentally by a thematic approach (let’s do kangaroos today), we focus directly on the respective skills - such as reading, handwriting, creative writing, spelling, speech, and grammar.

We their teachers must believe in the value of what we teach – they will then receive it with open arms. That is why the Educator responsible (the principal of FCS) will always seek to employ teachers who treasure their subject. This quality we have found is worth far more than the mere holding a state-recognised document of teacher qualification.



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