A Hidden Curriculum of Control: The Inequities of Urban Schooling

Nicole Mittenfelner Carl, University of Pennsylvania


This multi-year ethnographic study of a K-8 school, referred to as Baker School, in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia investigates the ways that hidden curricula of social reproduction and inequity shape students’ schooling experiences. The study employs ethnographic methods to explore, engage with, and better understand students’ experiences and perspectives of schooling at an under-resourced, urban, public school in a high-poverty neighborhood. The dissertation also examines how direct and indirect messages of possibility at the school influence students and teachers. I approach this study from an epistemological standpoint that situates students as important knowledge generators from which practitioners and scholars have much to learn. ^ This study is guided by a theoretical framework that considers how the naturalization of dominant values, beliefs, and actions has important consequences for students attending schools in under-resourced communities because these dominant beliefs are manifest in schools through overt and hidden curricula. Students’ perspectives and experiences of schooling processes in under-resourced schools are not often included in empirical research, and this ethnographic study has the potential to generate a new line of inquiry that centralizes students’ perspectives. ^ The study’s findings include that there is a hidden curriculum of control at Baker School in which schooling becomes primarily about controlling behavior. Relationships between students and teachers are strained as a result of the culture of control at the school, and to survive and thrive in this environment, students demonstrate micro resistance strategies as well as cultivate what I call a habitus of fierceness. The hidden curriculum of control, the systemic lack of resources, and the resulting power struggles and resistance culminate in, what I term, a deficit default based on deficit orientations of students, teachers, and parents. Finally, the study details the way that invisible macro structural processes impact students, teachers, and parents connected to Baker. However, instead of recognizing these invisible forces, students, teachers, and parents are blamed and blame themselves for the “failure” of urban, public schools like Baker. The study concludes by presenting implications for theory, practice, and future research based on the findings of this study. ^

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Educational leadership|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Carl, Nicole Mittenfelner, "A Hidden Curriculum of Control: The Inequities of Urban Schooling" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10278583.