Show and Tell - Hidden Curriculum & Rethinking Childhood

Recently I finished a book by a woman named Iris Chang called The Rape of Nanking, which detailed a genocide in China in 1937-1938. While the book has been subject to some serious criticism, what really took me back was that the events described actually happened - people were brutally and horribly attacked in the tens of thousands, and I never learned about it in school. It shocked me. I did an entire undergrad focusing on conflict from the Napoleonic to modern day, how could I not have heard of this? It really took me back, and made me question quite a bit about what else I was taught, and more importantly wasn’t taught; what I held to be true, what things I considered sacrosanct, and it led me to question why.

It just so happened that I have the fortune of being enrolled in a course which introduced the concepts of null curriculum and hidden curriculum to me as they pertain to educating children. Null curriculum being the concept that it matters just as much what we don’t teach children in the educational stream, as what we do teach them. That we need to be equally critical about what we include and what we omit, as (historically speaking) previous streams have been calculated and targeted attacks; for instance some have favoured Euro-centric subject matter in lieu of indigenous material, leading to dichotomies and social divisions, strife that we still see today. Hidden curriculum being the concept that we teach lessons between the lines, such as through teachers showing favouritism, or through their dislike, resentment, or contempt towards things, students, subjects, or opinions.

My boys reading a book on a kindle.

I decided to try to apply this same thinking to myself on more of a microcosm scale, as it pertains to my own parenting and perspective on raising my kids. I gave a lot of thought to my own childhood, and realized that I viewed it with a bit of a rosy lens. Trying to narrow it down to specifically why I viewed it that way, I boiled it down to one particular point: I found that I viewed it as comparatively more positive because it was less technologically involved. Put simply, I found that I felt that the generation my children were growing up in was clouded in unrefined technology. That they were missing out on a “spark” of childhood, a certain Norman Rockwell-esque element, a more unplugged - or at least analog experience.

Now before I start throwing stones, it should be said that I’m hardly one to judge. I prefer many of the older ways of doing things, I listen to a lot of older music, and I like a lot of older styles, media, traditions, etc. That is to say that I recognize my bias, and you should take my opinion with a grain of salt. With my boys spend so much of their childhood tracking devices and newer technologies, it’s been a challenge for me personally to resolve how to deal with this.

Internally I feel mildly torn, recognizing that they’re being born into an age where all of their peers will be children of technological standards far higher than my generation. Their job markets and educational environments will require more of them by way of technological aptitudes, I fully realize that to hold them back would be to stunt their growth. However, I simultaneously feel like the tools aren’t developed enough, as if the stats aren’t all in yet supporting this type of excessive exposure. I can’t speak to specific studies, but we’re seeing all sorts of mental health issues going rampant all over the place, and I can’t help but feel like they’re connected with social media, screen time, and this general social disconnect that’s coming part and parcel with the abundance of screens.

As a photographer, a professional who relies on technologies and screens to support them and bring in an income to support them, I feel torn. I see the value in exposure and education, but I feel like with their brains still developing into their mid-twenties, that it’s not good to have so much overabundance and such a disconnect. I feel like so much of the appreciation of the tangible that I have is steeped in my childhood experiences. I also feel frustration at my own ignorance in the matter. There’s just too much data to study, too many books, too many opinions, and not enough time. They’re growing too fast, and I can’t pause time to learn all I need to know in time to make educated choices. I feel helpless as a parent to know what the absolute right answer actually is. I feel like I long for my kids to experience simpler times where they just want to grab a ball, go outside, enjoy the sun, and collect bruises. In a way, I suppose that’s what being a kid was to me, not chasing screens and electrical outlets, but chasing imaginary scenarios, pretending to be heroes and heroines, saviors and villains, playing games, having adventures, but doing it in the real world, indoors in a fort made of cushions, or in the backyard in a tent, or behind the school on a basketball court, or in the woods behind a friend’s house. The backdrop of so many of my own memories.

As things happen, a number of situations unfolded in my personal life that made me really spend a lot of time with my wife and members of my family really delving deep into my childhood, asking some really hard questions. While I did have a number of those memories, my childhood wasn’t all that great to be honest. It had its ups and downs. Pretending that it was more than it should have been only does two things: 1. it risks me sending unintentional messages to my kids that their childhood isn’t living up to my standards - a hidden curriculum of my own making; and 2. It inhibits my own personal growth, including growing in my relationship with my kids.

In the end, as a photographer this was a great opportunity for me to introspectively explore myself through the medium of photography in assessing my perspective on technology in childhood development. I feel that it allowed me to really look at myself in a healthy critical way, and to actively decide to be more calculated in my approach to raising our boys with my wife. In our course readings we read the following passage, “Over the past century, we have perfected our educational system so that it runs like a well-oiled Taylorist machine, squeezing out every possible drop of efficiency in the service of the goal its architecture was originally designed to fulfill: efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society" (The End of Average - Todd Rose). Personally, I’d like more for our kids. I’d like to enable them by being as self-aware as possible in my own decisions of what I teach them and expose them to, and more conscious of what I may be inadvertently omitting. I hope that one day when they’re my age they don’t look back and find themselves entirely blindsided by inadvertent or second generation null curriculum in something I ignorantly missed, much like I did when I learned about Nanking. I hope they don’t read any hidden curriculum in how I may view their generation, as I’m now coming to see the shortcoming in my own upbringing. Most of all, I hope they see the humanity in me, see the love I have for them that ultimately inspires all of my actions, and have the grace to forgive me my flaws.