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PROFESSIONAL SOCIALIZATION AND THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM

Social workers are expected to facilitate opportunities to increase social and economic justice, uphold human rights, and eliminate poverty (CSWE, 2008). These charges assume that social workers leave the educational institution with tools to facilitate change and tools to create opportunities for the people with whom they work. They are supposed to do so by using “critical thinking augmented by creativity and curiosity” (CSWE, 2008, p. 4). It is consequently anticipated that social work students become socialized into the profession as social change agents. Webb (1988) states that becoming a social worker happens “via the various formal and informal socialization experiences that comprise social work education” (p. 40). Twenty years after Webb used the terms formal and informal, the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards developed by CSWE introduced the explicit and implicit curriculum as features of an integrated curriculum design. The explicit curriculum includes formal educational structures, whereas the implicit curriculum mainly refers to the educational environment. The implicit curriculum is supposed to be reflected in, among others, commitment to diversity, fair and transparent policies, culture of interaction, and priorities in the educational environment (CSWE, 2008). However, research on the impact of social work education on the professional socialization of social work students has been lacking, and the research that has been done is inconclusive and, at times, contradictory. Some studies claim a positive impact, some negative, others no impact, and some posit that there is a disjunction between the mission of social work—facilitate change and increase quality of life—and the orientation toward preserving the status quo—keeping practices as they are. The lack of empirical knowledge leaves the social work profession vulnerable to assumptions about how its practitioners are prepared (Barretti, 2004; D'Aprix, Dunlap, Able, & Edwards, 2004; Frans & Moran, 1993; Landau, 1999; Leichtentritt, Davidson-Arad, & Wozner, 2002; Miller, 2013; Moran, 1989; O'Connor & Dalgleish, 1986; Pike, 1996; Weiss, Gal, & Cnaan, 2004). Students are supposedly “transformed into the type ofpersons social work practitioners are expected to be” (Loseke & Cahill, 1986, p. 247). But do social work students really become change agents? Kivel (2007) refers to social services workers, who stay within the strict confines of already existing agency practices, as buffers and survival workers. They do exactly what is required in order to ensure that people survive as opposed to become change agents addressing structures that can change the life circumstances of people. Kivel challenges human services practitioners to be more than buffers. It is possible to educate human services professionals who will challenge the status quo, meaning the “this is what we always do, get used to it because this is the way it is!” mentality, so that practices become respectful of the rights of people, not just the needs of systems (Ife, 2008; Kivel, 2007). Given what is known about the hidden curriculum from the fields of sociology and education, the hidden curriculum lens can uncover educational practices that might counteract the mission of social work and therefore point us toward practices congruent with the purposes of the profession.

Jackson (1968/1990) coined the term “hidden curriculum” when he observed the behaviors of children in kindergarten (K)-12 public schools. Through classroom observations, Jackson identified features of classroom life that were inherent in the social relations of schooling, such as learning to wait quietly and exercising restraint, cooperating, keeping busy, showing allegiance to the teacher and peers, and being neat and punctual. According to Jackson, students learn to conform, be docile, and to reproduce the status quo. The existence of a hidden curriculum, however, is not limited to K-12 education; it is also present in colleges and universities (Bergenhenegouwen, 1987; Gair & Mullins, 2001; Margolis & Romero, 1998). The hidden curriculum is the unstated norms and non-academic, but educationally significant, consequences of schooling that are not made explicit. It is the business-as-usual, tacit ways that schools compel students to comply with dominant practices. In other words, the hidden curriculum consists of the invisible and taken-for-granted processes in education.

Kaufman (2005) supports this idea by presenting the concept of an “unmarked” category: “The unmarked represents the unnoticed and taken-for- granted elements of our social world that are often neglected by researchers as they focus on more marked [e.g., deviation-related] phenomena” (p. 247). In order to examine and uncover the dynamics of the socialization process, we must challenge and explore the taken-for-granted assumptions about everyday experiences and illuminate the invisible or unmarked—the hidden.

The hidden curriculum in social work education might very well be what Barretti (2004) refers to when she points to the “unintentional socialization” (p. 277) and the “unofficial socializing agents and varied conditions that may be complementary, contradictory, or irrelevant to the official definition [of socialization]” (p. 279). Barretti remains silent as to what might underlie the “unintentional socialization,” but Miller (2013) has begun the process of exploring the “intended and unintended consequences” (p. 369) of the professional socialization that might occur within social work educational programs. What are these “unofficial socializing agents”? Are they the taken-for-granted or invisible forces that, because they are “unmarked,” have not gained the interest of social work researchers and educators? According to Bowles and Gintis (1976), these forces must be examined because it is the form of socialization rather than the content of the formal curriculum that becomes the vehicle for preparing students for their corresponding places in the workforce.

 
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