The Two Types of Curriculum

In every school, there is two types of curriculum being taught. There is what I like to call the “Big C” curriculum. This is the actual content of academic knowledge that students are expected to learn by year’s end. Schools are supposed to churn out kids who can multiply and divide, string a few paragraphs together to form an essay, and know a few things about science as well as their country’s history. We can have a separate conversation regarding what should and shouldn’t be in the curriculum, but we can all agree that it is the teacher’s duty to deliver such content on a daily basis. But there is also another curriculum being taught in schools across the country, the “little c” curriculum. This curriculum is taught in both geometry and geography class. It is taught in the hallways. It is taught by teachers, administrators and sometimes, even self- and co-taught by students themselves. What I am talking about is the implicit messages that the institution of schooling sends our youth. The little c is arguably just as crucial to learn as the big C curriculum, but has the potential to be strikingly more dangerous.


While the big C is taught explicitly, little c curriculum registers through more nuanced and insidious practices. Oftentimes, what is not being said or shown tells as much of a story as what is. And this is the first aspect to the little c. It often operates through a lack of presence. The failure of minority representation in much of the literature in English class or significant figures in history class that reflect the diversity of our population is just one instance where little c curriculum prods its ugly head. This failure within the big C curriculum implicitly teaches little c stuff, in this case – that some bodies are valued more than others.


Modes of teaching are another place where we see the little c curriculum pop up in the daily learning of children. The style of teaching in most traditional schools is befitting to particular cultural groups and, to be quite honest, alien to others. This leads to particular bodies feeling even more so marginalized and psychologically distances them from conservative institutions, like school. Because schooling operates within a particular cultural order, students who are more comfortable in cultural environments that are different from your average classroom must adopt cultural cues in order to survive. Commonly, this is known as “code-switching” and students must learn this aspect of the little c curriculum if they have any hopes of being successful socially and academically. This little c is also taught on a daily basis; through implicit means such as dress codes, communication between teachers and student groups, and subjective school rules.


Regardless of how detailed our lesson plans are, when it comes to curriculum, we are all teaching two sets of it. The little c is an important aspect of the learning process that all youth must partake in. As educators, we must make sure to check our biases, privileges, and be aware of the things that do not necessarily pop up in textbooks and through our lessons.



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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