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The Hidden Curriculum

What is commonly seen as the “problem” of Indigenous education is in fact a larger problem of an educational system that perpetuates and models the goals and values of Western epistemology (Maldonado, Rhoads, & Buenavista, 2005; Wildcat, 2001a). Because the system privileges one way of knowing and understanding individuals and groups, those who are predisposed to other values and who possess less capital (social, cultural, and economic) are less likely to progress unharmed through the educational system. Indigenous epistemologies or habitus (perspectives and inherent beliefs) are based on the idea than one must understand one’s relationship to the world, grounded in one’s own geographic location and culture. Wildcat (2001d) uses the term “habitude” to describe “an attitude or awareness of a deep system of experiential relations on which the world is building or living” (p. 34). Habitude therefore can be seen as Indigenous habitus in that it is based on Indigenous predispositions and worldviews.

Many minority and Indigenous groups’ ways of knowing are different from the dominant culture. According to Smith (1999), Indigenous knowledges honor and maintain strong cultural connections to the traditional ways of knowing (e.g., storytelling and oral tradition). Indigenous knowledges may also be described as a manifestation of human knowledge, heritage, consciousness, and a way of relating to the ecological order of the universe (Battiste, 2000b; Battiste & Henderson, 2000b). The anti-colonial framework acknowledges the multiplicities and diversities of epistemologies outside of the dominant hegemony.

The impact of the “hidden curriculum” in maintaining social and cultural divisions within society is important to understand the complexity of Aboriginal persistence in education. This control is exerted in the every-day “taken for granted” values, norms, and beliefs of the dominant cultural interests, which are inscribed in students through the rules, routines, and classroom practices of schooling (Apple, 2003; Battiste, 2000b; Bourdieu, 1990; Smith, 1997). For many Indigenous peoples, this has meant loss of language, disruption of Indigenous culture, and imposition of Euro-Western values that have accumulated into the existing inequalities (RCAP, 1996).

These covert and overt efforts to purport mainstream values and beliefs results in various acts of “symbolic violence” the elimination of others from the educational system, the exclusion of different ways of knowing, alternative sets of rules, and “Other” voices (Andres, 1994; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1979, 1990; Harker, 1990a; Robbins, 1993; Webb, Schirato, & Danaher, 2002). Symbolic violence can include being treated as inferior, being denied resources, or limited social mobility and aspirations (Webb et al., 2002). Cognitive imperialism, as described by Battiste (2000a) is a form of cognitive manipulation and symbolic violence. It has been used to disclaim other knowledge bases and values by denying people their language and cultural integrity by maintaining the legitimacy of only one language, one culture, and one frame of reference. As cited by Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. J. College Student Retention, Vol. 10(3) 339-360.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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