What was a typical day in secondary school for you like? As a day student, it was waking up by 6am, getting to school before 7:30 am and back home at 4:30 pm on most days. During school hours, I was expected to sit in a classroom, with boys and girls my age all in their neatly pressed uniforms that made us look like a matching set. We had classes at the same hours, took breaks at the same time, and even had to ask permission before going to the bathroom. We’re Africans, so corporal punishment was very much approved for students who fell out of line. To be honest, some teachers relished it a bit too much. So you were flogged for being late, or too noisy, not adhering to the dressing code, and sometimes for having the audacity to talk back to a teacher. Suppose you’ve received some type of formal education. In that case, you’ve probably been nodding your head in agreement, and so would students going back over two centuries.
It’s no mistake that this sort of regimented system has lasted for so long. In part, it’s the fact that it would be stressful to overturn a system we’re already used to and create a new curriculum. No, I don’t mean the one your teachers gave you to let you know each class’s syllabus. I mean the underlying curriculum that isn’t explicitly spoken about, but still active in moulding students’ minds and shaping our society. To unpack the extent of the modern school system’s unspoken intentions, we have to understand the history of schooling itself.
How did it begin?
I recently found out about the inception of formal education for the masses in 2020. I was reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari –a fantastic read. See back in the early 19th century, education was reserved for the elite. The common man had to make a living by going to the farm or learning a craft to feed their families. So wars could drag on for years because foot soldiers had to go home and tend to their crops when it was time to plant or harvest or too cold to fight. For the King of Prussia (modern-day Germany, not Russia), who was suffering multiple military defeats, that wasn’t good enough. So the Prussian education system, similar to the one most schools use today, was birth. They built schools, made education free and accessible to the poor, and trained teachers to teach a set curriculum. That sounds nice, but the Prussians had another agenda: to build a strong national identity and install unquestionable respect to authority. Parents sent their children to learn how to read and write, and their wards came back as the ideal soldier. The atrocities of World War II, and any war really, are a testament to what happens when people are trained from childhood to never disobey.
Our hearts break when we see child soldiers because we understand how easy it is to mould a child into the person we want them to be. But like the child-soldier, we fail to recognize the indoctrination in our system. Today, we learn math, science, religion and a host of other subjects at school. But it’s all within a system that reinforces being punctual, docile and complacent to authority. Isn’t it the least bit unnerving that we’re using the recipe to create 19th-century soldiers and 20th-century factory workers, in the 21st century?
But there’s more
When famous Nigerian musician, Burna Boy released the song titled, ‘Monsters You Made,’ some of the lyrics struck a chord. The Nigerian, and many African countries curriculum, claim that colonial masters founded rivers, hills, and other landmarks in our history textbook. But that’s silly because Africans were here long before the Europeans discovered this continent, right? Well then, who actually found River Niger? There’s a proverb that goes, ‘Until the lion learns to speak, every story will glorify the hunter.’ So when the hunter tells the lion, it did not exist before the hunter, when it demonizes the lion’s culture. The animal has no other choice but to conform to the only thing they know.
What other hidden curriculums do you think exists in our educational system?