A hidden curriculum

Published on: Jan 18, 2018

I examine two related concepts: hierarchised identity formation and the enclosure of desire as a hidden curriculum.

A hidden curriculum is, I suggest the collection of assumptions, often about power (Brookfield 2017, chapter 2) that is communicated alongside and through the practice of overt curricula. A hidden curriculum is conveyed through implicit biases by teachers and education institutions. It is delivered alongside more overt curricular elements such as subject-specific knowledge and skills, as well as “transferrable skills” and “graduate attributes”. There may be many, indeed there are many hidden curricula which work with and against social norms beyond the institution and largely outwith the control of the institution or its agents. I will suggest that hierarchised identity formation is one of the hidden curricula of higher eduction. I hypothesise that this might be felt more acutely in the UK because of England’s tradition of a landed, aristocratic and military gentry related by ancestry to the head of state. But, it is felt elsewhere than Britain: “Rich man goes to college, poor man goes to work” (Charlie Daniels Band, “Long haired country boy”). In Britain the green and white papers leading to the current Higher Education Act 2017 declared universities to be engines of social mobility. Social mobility for these purposes is conceived primarily as a private (not public) good and is ranked in a categorical hierarchy consisting of education attainment, occupation type and lifetime earnings expectation, ranked in quartiles and centiles. The concept of social mobility is applied competitively as a finitely resourced, zero-sum game with winners and losers and movers.

Among many overt and covert curricula, higher education institutions teach graduates to internalise and then, in subtle ways, to manifest superordinate authority based on a narrowed set of criteria. This narrowing is achieved, in part through enclosures. As Slater (2014) suggests, as the aristocracy enclosed the common land, now today’s elites enclose electronic, digital virtual and subjective territory:

The extension of enclosures beyond the purely physical realm and into the terrain of subjectivity is a pressing concern and necessitates the development of concepts capable of engaging this development on those same grounds (551).

I use desire as an example. Desire is a manifestation of physical, embodied subjectivity: immanent and rational. Desire is a direct and (nearly?) universally accessible human concept. It is an observable phenomenon of being embodied. The enclosure of desire is the appropriation, limitation or exclusion of feelings, passions and affections, from allowable discourses.

“The waxing and waning of these paths awaits a full socio-philosophical inventory” (Barnett 2016 p. 148). There is research to be done. My aim through this exercise is to illuminate one possible direction of inquiry. I examine hierarchised identity formation and “enclosure” with respect to desire as a hidden or covert curriculum behind the degree. This hidden curriculum has hierarchical positionality locked in a codependent embrace with enclosed desire.

By desire I do include sexual desire. But lust, the libidinal and kama go further than that. All passion and urges-for are moments of immanent desire. Nietzsche’s will to power is desire. We talk about lust for life. The virtual learning platform Desire2Learn (https://www.d2l.com/en-eu/) is not accidentally named. Desire to learn is the central theme of Plato’s Symposium, even so entangled with other desires as that meal was. By the enclosure of desire I mean that this immanence is walled off, bounded and appropriated, monetised, analysed, squeezed dry, transgressed and transcended. Even here. I stand, of course, on a participant-observer continuum stretching concepts on a frame.

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