22 July 2009


A matter about which many people intimate in their complaints about schooling is something known as the "hidden curriculum." (Yes, I am returned from three weeks in England--one-week pure travel and two archeologizing in the cold mud at a Roman Fort searching for Hadrian's footprints.)

Usually reference to the hidden curriculum is used in the negative sense; e.g., the Hard Times, undemocratic, classist, sexist, racist, ageist, and particularly today, the sexual-orientationist messages (heteronormativity is rampant in schools; witness the popular teen pronouncement, "That's gay") which reverberate between and around the walls of American schools. And, yes, I am sure that a hidden message is conveyed that war is good for all good children and American democracy. Contra that message, one of my favorite sayings, readily repeated to my students, concerning war, is WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle's pithy observation that, "War is hell." (Later, Pyle was machine-gunned in the head and buried with his helmet and boots on.)

What I am aiming for here is that even though I was a rather indifferent K-12 student myself, there were life-enhancing lessons, conveyed by the hidden curriculum which have informed who I am, and, I suspect, who each of you is today. Hopefully, there were sufficiently positive ones to have pointed you toward a life well lived.

In particular, I am reminded of a teacher of math about whose subject matter I cared less than little. In one of his classes I bargained (actually, I rather presumptuously dictated to him) that I would gladly accept a failing grade for the class, if he would acquiesce in my daily retirement to the school auditorium to sit alone and read (at that time science fiction, historical fiction, etc.). I assessed that I had bargained well.

I did not enjoy Mr. Wilcox's class at all, due to the subject matter. However, my point here is that there was a hidden-curriculum lesson that I learned from him: Respect for adults, respect for teachers, respect for people in general, but especially a great deal of respect for him as a person.

Last week we learned that Mr. Wilcox was given two weeks to two months to live. Here is what I wrote on our class website earlier this (late) morning:

I have recently returned from some travel and read (checking my email at a public library in northeast England) with disquiet the medical update on Mr. Wilcox. I join you in sending an invocation to the Universe on his behalf.

When we saw Mr. Wilcox at the Class gathering, in May, he was manifestly radiant in the way that some people become when their soul is beginning to wing its way to Elsewhere. The Soul knows. His address to the group just before he left now seems in hindsight to have been a subconsciously knowing farewell to a group of people, his students, who have so many fond and appreciative memories of a teacher about whom we all continue to this day to highly respect. Those of us who were fortunate to have been there to see him at the gathering were transfixed by his brave, from-the-heart, talk.

Carl Jung said that, "One looks with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings." This you did, Mr. Jim Wilcox, even long after we left your classroom. And for this, we give thanks.

Mr. Wilcox, my math teacher, taught me little math (not his fault). He DID "teach" me an equation to the 10th-power more valuable. You know what it is.

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