Social class and the not-so-hidden curriculum

One of my favorite papers from my master’s program was “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work” by the late CUNY professor, Jean Anyon. Anyon’s work identifies and interrogates assumptions made in education about learners of low social status – primarily students of color and/or those living in poor households – and how such assumptions mask the greater sociopolitical, macro-economic and historical forces at work. “Social Class” is a discussion of a study done by Anyon of five elementary schools with distinct curricula and classroom expectations that corresponded to preparation for a class-specific social position later in life; for example, the working-class school prepared students for “future wage labor that is mechanical and routine” (88), while the school in the highest-income neighborhood, which Anyon calls the “capitalist class” (72), used a curriculum that prepared students for leadership positions by guiding them in the acquisition of symbolic capital (a concept coined by Bourdieu) that would help them to understand and learn to manage systems of production such as those which their parents managed before them.

Shocking but wonderfully eye-opening work. It might be hard to accept Bourdieu’s work if you are not a fan of Marx, but the study itself demonstrates that class and education certainly intersect to define how individuals move through schooling as a sociocultural formative process and not simply an educative one. But encountering examples of such phenomena can be a tricky process; how does one find a school that clearly says, “We teach kids how to be upper-class?”

Avenues (1)

Well, this one basically does say that: Avenues, The World School, which has locations in New York and several other large cities around the world, promises that its graduates will be “ architects of lives that transcend the ordinary” in the “learning community” where they can “help every student find something to be passionate about, something to inspire each one to work harder than an upcoming exam ever could.” (emphasis added) Wait a minute…I remember that they’ve been using more and more testing nowadays somewhere, in some educational institution…oh yes, it’s called public school.

Don’t worry, poor kid. You won’t need to worry about thinking independently, reflectively, or creatively; you won’t get a job where those abilities are needed anyway. You need to focus on meeting state standards for reading and math, which means – counter-intuitively – that we’re going to take away from instruction time and focus on dozens of tests per year, keeping you stressed out and focused anxiously on what’s immediately ahead. Don’t worry that the richer kids don’t have to deal with all this testing; they need to pay attention, be inspired and create their own source of curiosity, so they can learn how to be your boss someday.


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