The unspecified curriculum of values: A case study of the messages embedded in public school kindergarten routines
This case study explored the ritualized routine activities that comprise the beginning of the school day for children entering kindergarten. Specifically, it investigated the expectations for behavior that are embedded in beginning activities, along with the messages of responsibility and obligation that are conveyed. Methods of data collection included documentary data, participant observations, interviews, and videotapes of activities carried out within the first hour of the school day from the time the first child entered the classroom to the implementation of the first formal lesson plan. The setting for this study was a public school kindergarten on the eastern end of Long Island.
The conceptual framework for this study was based on Goffman's idea of brackets, or theoretically placed boundaries around a set of standardized activities that are performed with repetition, often by the same person. They are meaningful because they contain the “signals” and “displays” through which participants reveal their stance toward each other and toward the activity in which they are about to engage. The literature on schooling and early childhood education, with some exceptions, has overlooked the importance of ritualized activities and the way that these repetitive activities are used to convey messages and to teach.
Briefly, I found that the beginning activities in kindergarten, habitual in nature, contained embedded messages which I call the unspecified curriculum of values. These messages included the following mandates: adapt to a schedule, organize materials, follow classroom rules, complete assignments neatly, share, finish tasks, demonstrate manners, blend in, and conform. The values were predominantly teacher driven and were communicated through verbal and non-verbal cues. Most often, the children responded to the teacher's cues with acceptance and compliance, possibly out of love for their teacher, respect for authority, fear of consequences, or because of the inequitable distribution of power between teacher and students. The teacher had the authority to convey values, expectations and social norms in the classroom according to her beliefs.