Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I found the Golden Nugget

Written by: on October 19, 2017

It’s been a surreal week as the Elite 8 cohort has struggled to read and respond to Derek Rowntree’s Learn How to Study: Developing the study skills and approaches to learning that will help you succeed in university.  While I couldn’t locate but one insignificant review on this book, I jumped in to the reading in true Adler and Van Doren style.  I implemented my level 2, 3, and 4 reading techniques[1] and – low and behold – found my golden nugget in “The Hidden Curriculum”.  What is the hidden curriculum?  According to Rowntree, “The hidden curriculum is what you have to satisfy in order to survive and prosper in your situation.  It may include such qualities as punctuality at classes and speaking differently to different tutors.  It may include reading a wider range of material than appears to be required for the course.  It will almost certainly be reflected in what tutors are truly looking for in your work.”[2]

Working in higher education, I immediately started to evaluate my own duplicity in a hidden curriculum – Do I have a hidden curriculum in my courses?  Does the university have a hidden curriculum?  And the most disturbing question – have I hindered a student’s success by hidden norms, hidden rules, and hidden expectations?  (To be honest I’m not sure I’ve answered these questions for myself yet, but I’m acutely aware that I need to review and evaluate my courses and interactions with students).  I appreciate Rowntree’s idealism surrounding critical thinking “Such a reflective, questioning approach, once you get used to it, should be yours for life.”[3]  My personal reflection and questioning on this topic led me to do significant searching/reading on the term “hidden curriculum” and boy is there a lot of material out there!  The truth is, hidden curriculum is larger than just punctuality and reading material – hidden curriculum “consists of the “norms, values, and expectations” that govern interactions among students, faculty, staff and administrators. To excel in college, at-risk students must navigate a world of new social norms – typically those of the white middle class, she argues”.[4]  And then it hit me – hidden curriculum is just another form of oppression.  It’s more than course policies and assessments.  It’s more than changing my teaching approach to a flipped classroom.  It’s more than implementing competency based education.  It’s changing the culture of higher education.  While the solutions are complex, Taylor identifies three focus areas in addressing culture:  language as a medium, space as a medium, and structure as a medium.[5]  Speaking of evaluating culture, isn’t that what this Leadership and Global Perspectives Program is all about?  Maybe we’ll have the perfect solution(s) by the time we achieve our DMin!

I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this – but let’s be honest – there is certainly a “hidden curriculum” in church.  John Ortberg’s article in Christianity Today asks “What do people learn from you about the Christian life? Sometimes it’s what you never intended to teach.”  He goes on to say, “But we have a hidden curriculum. Who gets fawned over, and who gets ignored? How do the staff and leaders get along when they’re off the platform and think nobody’s looking? How does a small group respond when someone shares a problem that is untidy and unresolved? Do leaders respond with panic or irritation or confidence or gentleness when a problem strikes? When there is a conflict, do people face it head on or go into avoidance mode? Does the church staff run on fear?”[6]  I think I can safely say we’ve all either played a role, and/or been a victim of a hidden curriculum.  And this is why Christians are frequently labeled hypocrites.  Why is it so pervasive in the Christian church?  Especially in a community committed to learning and emulating Jesus, the greatest teacher of all time.  It’s sobering to think our churches are participating in oppression.

Speaking of oppression, Erin Lord Kunz, guest contributor to feminismandreligion.com with her article The Hidden Curriculum in Evangelism: Patriarchy, identifies patriarchy as the “leftover from conservative America that remains”.  Whether patriarchy is “hidden curriculum” may be questioned by some (only in that it feels quite overt if you’re a woman).  A point of clarification – Erin is not referring just to men taking leadership roles, she is more concerned with women being “subordinated and oppressed both knowingly and unknowingly”. [7]  This includes economics, politics, and cultural discourse.[8]  She does make a compelling argument with the following statement “Until Christian Evangelists legitimately let go of all the privileges white, middle-class patriarchy has granted them for so many years, Christianity is going to be massively unappealing to anyone who isn’t white, middle-class, and male.”  What a powerful statement and a challenging concept.

So, what are you willing to do?  Will you evaluate your professional/personal world to seek out hidden curriculum?  Are we willing to accept the probability that it likely exists in some way, somewhere?  Perhaps the biggest challenge is that our hidden curriculum is so hidden it will take significant searching, reflection, and evaluating to locate it.  I implore you to take the risk – “seek and you will find”.  Can you believe it?  I truly believe I found a golden nugget in Rowntree’s Learn How to Study. 





[1] https://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Book-Intelligent-Touchstone/dp/0671212095

[2]        Derek Rowntree. Learn How to Study: Developing the study skills and approaches to learning that will help you succeed in university: A virtual tutorial with Professor Derek Rowntree. Kindle ed. (Wappingers Falls, NY: Beekman Books, 1989). Location1219

[3] Rowntree, Learn How to Study, loc143

[4] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/04/book-argues-mentoring-programs-should-try-unveil-colleges-hidden-curriculum

[5]        Taylor, K.B. (2008). Mapping the intricacies of young adults’ developmental journey from socially prescribed to internally defined identities, relationships, and beliefs. Journal o/College Student Development, 49(3),215-234.

[6] http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2009/winter/hiddencurriculum.html

[7] https://feminismandreligion.com/2014/05/28/the-hidden-curriculum-in-evangelism-patriarchy-by-erin-lord-kunz/

[8] https://feminismandreligion.com/2014/05/28/the-hidden-curriculum-in-evangelism-patriarchy-by-erin-lord-kunz/

About the Author

Jean Ollis

11 responses to “I found the Golden Nugget”

  1. Trisha Welstad says:

    Wow, Jean great find! I love that you brought in other sources as well and talked about the hidden curriculum of the church which there most definitely is. You were doing what both Adler and Rowntree expects by asking good questions of the text as well and searching for answers outside of the text too.
    I see the obstacle of hidden curriculum with minority students and immigrants who are hoping to become US citizens as most of the people in positions of power (professors, administrators, officials) are not from their background and may have a biased against them which makes them immediately at a disadvantage. I see this in the church when we expect people to understand our language or why we do what we do with the liturgy and sacraments (and that’s before we get off the stage). This is a valuable reflection. Thank you for finding it and asking the questions for us. I am going to think on my own ways I have hidden curriculum in my own work and life. I would like to hear from you what you find as you find it as well.

  2. Kyle Chalko says:

    Great nugget! Succeeding in college classes is often learning what your professor wants to see! Do you let your students in on the secret and tell your students what you want to see in the papers they turn in to you?

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Kyle! I definitely give students detailed expectations for papers – I even encourage them to use headings for each content section so it’s easy for me to find the information (we use APA) as I grade. They still don’t do it. Frustrating! How about you? What’s your experience in grading?

  3. M Webb says:


    Excellent digging on “hidden curriculum” situations in higher education settings. Thanks for naming oppression as the consequence of the hidden curriculum. Where do you think that comes from? That leads me right into your well written analysis of the hidden curriculum in our churches. Great who, what, and why questions and conclusions. Not sure what your research question is, but if it was “hidden curriculum” then you effectively connected your post with your dissertation problem.

    I continue to be amazed, but not surprised, at how well the evil one hides in plain sight to our Christian leaders and church bodies. I read your quotes from Kunz. I do not know the person, or their theology, but it appears that their statement does not factor in the Pauline factor that our battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Hiding in plain sight, that is what he does, the devil. He is the master of hidden curriculums, agendas, and schemes.
    Finally, I accept your challenge to seek and find the hidden curriculums in my life. Will you accept my challenge to armor up and let the Holy Spirit unmask evil in our midst?

    Great job applying your critical eye and educational discernment to this post and thank you for referencing Matthew 7:7.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike!
      I always appreciate the fact that you dig deeper into my blogs. You’re right that Kunz doesn’t dig deeper into the “Pauline factor” – I have to be honest I’ve never heard that term before. I would guess that’s the case with a lot of Christian authors? Also, I fully accept your challenge to allow the Holy Spirit to expose evil in our midst.
      In fact, I found myself having the discussion about evil forces/Satan yesterday with several of my clients who are Christians and feeling defeated. Thank you for the reminder!

  4. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    What a thoughtful blog!

    I personally reflected on Ortberg’s statement, “But we have a hidden curriculum. Who gets fawned over, and who gets ignored? How do the staff and leaders get along when they’re off the platform and think nobody’s looking? How does a small group respond when someone shares a problem that is untidy and unresolved?”

    Ouch. But the more I think about it, the more I can see his, and your, point. Thanks for helping me think.

  5. Dave Watermulder says:


    Wow. Thanks for this blog post and the surprising nugget that you unearthed. It’s clear that this is a subject that you are passionate about, but also that you’ve studied and have “experiential knowledge” of as well. I was blessed to read your writing on this topic and to consider my own “hidden curriculum”. May we all ferret that thing out, and bring it into the light. Thanks again!

  6. Jean:

    Thanks for your thoughts on hidden curriculum. The first thing your post reminded me of was a year-long post-MDiv internship Karen and I were a part of. It was called BUILD (Baptist Urban Involvement in Leadership Development), and we exegeted the city and our church to learn how to be more missional. One of the exercises had us creating an overhead slide (yes, this was back in the days of overheads!!) which had all the “signs” that were true and should have been posted in our church, but that were really just our church’s hidden curriculum. We created signs such as: “Women can lead the kids’ ministry, but not preach”, and “You must be part of the Portuguese in-crowd to have influence here.” (Our church was a tricultural Portuguese-Spanish-Anglo Canadian church.) Hidden curriculum was definitely at play in that congregation. And you had to play by the rules, or you’d be sidelined.

    This week my friend Chris Heuertz, author of the recently released “The Sacred Enneagram”, messaged me to encourage my involvement in a project he was a part of. It’s called ChurchClarity.com, and its goal is to promote clarity on church websites regarding the local congregation’s perspective on LGBTQ policy. The church gets a green light if they are clear on having a policy that is upfront and honest – either affirming or non-affirming – but a yellow or red card if they obfuscate or hide their agendas. With many “seeker sensitive” congregations telling all they are welcome, yet having hidden curriculum that prevents some from being truly welcome, they are not pursuing clarity.

  7. I loved your info and expansion of the concept of hidden curriculum. It challenged me to look at it deeper in my life and ministry and thought it was very admirable that you pulled this concept out and expanded on it even though the text was very difficult. I will take your gold nugget as well. Thx for your post and hope all is well with you and Ron.

  8. Jason Turbeville says:

    I have been a unfortunate target of hidden curriculum in a church. Even if you look like others (white male), if you don’t think and act like they want you will be shut out or kicked out. The church definitely needs to do a better job of shutting these avenues of oppression no matter what form it may take. Thanks for the post.

  9. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, I believe you found to be encouraging the same thing that I found in this reading…purpose. I am not sure that I expressed it as fluently and adequately as you did however. I did not take much from the “skills” aspect of this reading, but did feel that it led me to do some introspective study into my own ministry drives…especially with scholarship. I thought a lot about where I hope this journey is going to take me, as well as what I hope to gain from it. I have my own hidden curriculum that I am studying for as do everyone else in this course. We have our own goals and desires that we hope this is leading to down the road; in other words, it is more than just the education, but rather what the education is going to do for us.

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