Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Exposing the underbelly - the hidden curriculum in the natural sciences

One thing that I find prevalent in the legal and medical literature is reference to a "hidden curriculum" in higher education. The concept originated in the 1970's and refers to the idea that as part of training, we are all subject to social and academic norms that might be quite different from the content of what we are being taught, which can be problematic on many levels.

One of my favorite papers from the medical literature that addresses moving forward in spite of the hidden curriculum is "Reflections on a Well-Traveled Path: Self-Awareness, Mindful Practice, and Relationship-Centered Care as Foundation for Medical Education" by Sharon Dobie. The paper is well worth reading, but in essence describes how medical students enter school with a great deal of optimism and often worry about losing that, with good reason, through the training process. She goes on to describe how self-reflective practice can help students and their teachers and mentors to continue to operate from the place that inspired them to become doctors to begin with.

I am curious about how directly addressing the hidden curriculum in the natural sciences might change how we train graduate students, not to mention how we ultimately undertake practice. In the environmental sciences, my specialty, my experience has been that most of us enter the field from a place of deep love and reverence for the world, particularly the natural world. But that we can also fall into the hidden curriculum trap, where that love must to some degree be subverted to subject matter expertise and a focus on objectivity. I wonder what types of practices, and perhaps institutional changes, might be cultivated to bring the effects of the hidden curriculum to light.

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