Definitions of Curriculum


Definition 1: Curriculum is such “permanent” subjects as grammar, reading, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, and the greatest books of the Western world that best embody essential knowledge.


Definition 2: Curriculum is those subjects that are most useful for living in contemporary society.


Definition 3: Curriculum is all planned learnings for which the school is responsible.


Definition 4: Curriculum is all the experiences learners have under the guidance of the school.


Definition 5: Curriculum is the totality of learning experiences provided to students so that they can attain general skills and knowledge at a variety of learning sites.


Definition 6: Curriculum is what the student constructs from working with the computer and its various networks, such as the Internet.


Definition 7: Curriculum is the questioning of authority and the searching for complex views of human situations.


Definition 8: Curriculum is all the experiences that learners have in the course of living.


(From Marsh, C. J. & Willis, G. (2003). Curriculum: Alternative approaches, ongoing issues. (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.)


Types of Curriculum


—from Leslie Wilson’s website and Larry Cuban

(Courtesy of Dr. Judith Irvin, Florida State University)

Overt, explicit or written curriculum is simply that which is written as part of formal instruction of the schooling experience. It may refer to a curriculum document, texts, and supportive materials that are overtly chosen to support the intentional instructional agenda of a school.

Cuban (1992) calls it an intended curriculum (recommended, adopted, official). It serves as a documented map of theories, beliefs, and intentions about schooling, teaching, learning, and knowledge—evidence in the development of teacher proof curriculum.

Curriculum-in-use The formal curriculum (written or overt) comprises those things in textbooks, and content and concepts in the district curriculum guides. However, those "formal" elements are frequently not taught. The curriculum-in-use is the actual curriculum that is delivered and presented by each teacher.
Cuban (1992) calls it the taught curriculum (implicit, delivered, operational) where teacher beliefs begin altering the curriculum/teaching style. Relates to Hidden curriculum (see below).

Received curriculum Those things that students actually take out of classroom; those concepts and content that are truly learned and remembered.
Cuban (1992) calls it the learned curriculum. "The gap between what is taught and what is learned—both intended and unintended—is large." Cuban, p. 223, 1992)
Anderson (1984) found that primary grade students were most concerned about finishing their work, not understanding it.
Schoenfeld (1990) found that elementary students often solved math problems in a mechanical way even when answers don’t make sense in the real world. Students learn that school math is arbitrary.
• Many researchers have given evidence about misconceptions that students and adults have—naïve theories.

Rhetorical curriculum Elements from the rhetorical curriculum are comprised from ideas offered by policymakers, school officials, administrators, or politicians. This curriculum may also come from those professionals involved in concept formation and content changes; or from those educational initiatives resulting from decisions based on national and state reports, public speeches, or from texts critiquing outdated educational practices. The rhetorical curriculum may also come from the publicized works offering updates in pedagogical knowledge.

Societal curriculum Cortes (1981) defines societal curricula as:
"...[the] massive, ongoing, informal curriculum of family, peer groups, neighborhoods, churches organizations, occupations, mass, media and other socializing forces that "educate" all of us throughout our lives. " (p. 25)

Concomitant curriculum - What is taught, or emphasized at home, or those experiences that are part of a family's experiences, or related experiences sanctioned by the family. (This type of curriculum may be received at church, in the context of religious expression, lessons on values, ethics or morals, molded behaviors, or social experiences based on a family's preferences.)

Phantom curriculum -The messages prevalent in and through exposure to media.

The hidden or covert curriculum -That which is implied by the very structure and nature of schools, much of what revolves around daily or established routines.
Longstreet and Shane (1993) offer a commonly accepted definition for this term.
. . . the "hidden curriculum," which refers to the kinds of learnings children derive from the very nature and organizational design of the public school, as well as from the behaviors and attitudes of teachers and administrators.... " (p. 46)
Examples of the hidden curriculum might include the messages and lessons derived from the mere organization of schools -- the emphasis on:
- sequential room arrangements;
- the cellular, timed segments of formal instruction;
- an annual schedule that is still arranged to accommodate an agrarian age;
- disciplined messages that concentration equates to classrooms where students are sitting up straight and are continually quiet;
- students getting in and standing in line silently;
- students quietly raising their hands to be called on; competition for grades, and so on.
The hidden curriculum may include both positive or negative messages, depending on the perspective of the learner or the observer.

David P. Gardner is reported to have said:
‘We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least."

The null curriculum - That which we do not teach, thus giving students the message that these elements are not important in their educational experiences or in our society. Eisner offers some major points as he concludes his discussion of the null curriculum.
"The major point I have been trying to make thus far is that schools have consequences not only by virtue of what they do not teach, but also by virtue of what they neglect to teach. What students cannot consider, what they don't processes they are unable to use, have consequences for the kinds of lives they lead. p. 103"

Eisner (1985, 1994) first described and defined aspects of this curriculum. He states:
"There is something of a paradox involved in writing about a curriculum that does not exist. Yet, if we are concerned with the consequences of school programs and the role of curriculum in shaping those consequences, then it seems to me that we are well advised to consider not only the explicit and implicit curricula of schools but also what schools do not teach. It is my thesis that what schools do not teach may be as important as what they do teach. I argue this position because ignorance is not simply a neutral void; it has important effects on the kinds of options one is able to consider, the alternatives that one can examine, and the perspectives from which one can view a situation or problems. ...p. 97"

From Eisner's perspective the null curriculum is simply that which is not taught in schools. Somehow, somewhere, some people are empowered to make conscious decisions as to what is to be included and what is to be excluded from the overt curriculum. Since it is physically impossible to teach everything in schools, many topics and subject areas must be excluded from the written curriculum. But Eisner's position on the null curriculum is that when certain subjects or topics are left out of the curriculum, school personnel are sending messages to students that certain content and processes are not important enough to study. Unfortunately, without some level of awareness that there is also a well-defined implicit agenda in schools, school personnel send this same type of message via the hidden curriculum also.

Cortes, C.E. (1981) The societal curriculum: Implications for multiethnic educations. In Banks, J.A (ed.) Education in the 80's: Multiethnic education. National Education Association.

*Cuban, Larry (1992) Curriculum stability and change. In Jackson, Philip (ed.) Handbook of Research on Curriculum. American Educational Research Association (added by MBeech)

Eisner, E.W. (1994) The educational imagination: On design and evaluation of school programs. (3rd. ed) New York: Macmillan.

Longstreet, W.S. and Shane, H.G. (1993) Curriculum for a new millennium. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Copyright© Leslie Owen Wilson, 1997 University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point. Web assistance by Lynn Kirby