Hidden curriculum

Published August 31, 2014
The writer is pursuing a doctorate in education at Harvard University.
The writer is pursuing a doctorate in education at Harvard University.

IN education, the term ‘hidden curriculum’ refers to indoctrination that occurs implicitly or through outright omission. National ideology, alienating narratives about the ‘other,’ and socio-political attitudes are cemented through hidden curricula. But beyond the educational triad of ‘textbooks, teaching, and testing’, the civic area where the hidden curriculum operates most effectively is national holidays when, regardless of participation, every citizen understands what is being celebrated and why.

Most recently, in the United States, the hidden curriculum of Columbus Day has come under scrutiny as people have begun to question whether American schoolchildren should be celebrating a man who is supposed to have plundered, maimed and enslaved innocent men and women, as a ‘hero’.

The very debate over the glorification of Christopher Columbus through a national holiday that subverts and conceals the uglier side of history teaches schoolchildren to critically examine tradition, and to realise that history is, at the very least, controversial.

On the other end of the spectrum are societies like North Korea where the death of their ‘Dear Leader’ produced reports of wailing bears and mourning birds to underscore the narrative of Kim Jong-il’s divinity. His son, the ‘great successor,’ Kim Jong-un’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Called the ‘day of shining star’, gift bags are distributed among schoolchildren glorifying their leader’s ‘accomplishments’. Thus, North Korean schoolchildren learn to associate patriotism, citizenship and reward with a celebration of authoritarian rule and conformity.

No longer is there a single, unchallenged survival narrative.

The hidden curriculum of Pakistan’s Independence Day celebration has changed drastically over the past three decades. The 14th Augusts of the Zia generation are nothing like the Independence Days of the millennials ie children born in the 21st century.

During PTV’s monopoly of the 1980s, a mere extension of transmission hours was a public gift even though the content was simple and the messaging uniform: war anthems celebrating Pakistan’s glory amidst annual remembrances of the bloodshed of Muslims at the vengeful hands of Hindus. In short, there was a single, unchallenged survival narrative constructed around external existential threats as perceived by the guardians of the state.

This Independence Day, however, the singular message transmitted under the military dictatorship of the 1980s is unrecognisable in the dizzying yet refreshing fray of political struggles. Millennials hear terms like haqeeqi jamhoriat, jamhoori haq, aeeni baladasti, pur-aman ehtijaj, and civil nafarmani — true democracy, democratic right, constitutional supremacy, peaceful protest and civil disobedience — words that were barely whispered in the singular, stagnant narrative that characterised the 1980s.

Moreover, a state that has historically defined itself in the negative, ie what we are not (for instance, Hindus, Western etc) as opposed to what we are, finds no mention of India, the US or Zionism in a 24/7 multi-channel media debate over what kind of Pakistan we are striving for. The hidden curriculum this Independence Day is less about the enemies that have defined us in the past and more about the values which will define us in the future.

Despite the absence of a debating culture in the classroom, our children are auditioning arguments, disagreements, and deliberation on politics on a daily basis. At the very least, they are exposed to the differences between belligerence and reason, hyperbole and logic, violence and dialogue.

They witness how certain personalities employ humour and charisma, as opposed to brute force and authority, to make a point; and all this, across a variety of shows on basic cable. Until 1990, many of us couldn’t even change the channel.

Today, the government and opposition alike are investing in their vote bank; the inherent messaging, the hidden curriculum, is that the power is with us, the people. It is this hidden and, perhaps, inadvertent curriculum that ensures the norms of citizenship and political participation of the millennials will be radically different from that of the Zia generation.

Some might argue for a simpler time, when the risk of ‘confusing’ our young was mitigated in exchange for a safer, more stable Pakistan. But there’s a fine line between superficial stability and slavish subservience. When concerned parents rallied against the teaching of comparative religion in an elite private school, for fear of their children going astray or converting to another religion, they short-changed their children’s potential scholarly courage, an inherently Islamic value, for the highly debauched comfort of ignorance.

Pakistani youth are rejecting overprotective and superficial notions of stability, and redefining the state as a political entity worth saving and celebrating outside the framework of cosmic wars. While religious terms remain inherent to the discourse of change and progress, religion itself is not the headline; corruption, accountability and political legitimacy, are.

The writer is pursuing a doctorate in education at Harvard University.

Twitter: @MariamChughtai

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014



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