The Hidden Curriculum

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I was honored to be invited to give the 2013 FPU commencement address. As President Menjares noted afterwards it was something of a tribute to our faculty. Below I have included only the descriptions of the three characteristics or “virtues” of our Hidden Curriculum. I have had to leave out all of the illustrative stories of students and faculty, but I only have so much room in each post. For those of you who are FPU alums you will be able to find your own examples… Congratulations once again to the Class of 2013.

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 My topic is the hidden curriculum that you sometimes unknowingly have studied. We may have spoken about it at times, have hinted, but for the most part it is tucked into and behind the way we approach and practice education. I have spent all of my professional life here at Fresno Pacific, so what I have to say is the fruit of my work with my colleagues. They have taught me. I have listened to them, watched and discussed the characteristics of education I will outline with many of them, and many who came before them and are now retired. I am grateful for being a part of this faculty and their readiness to examine and understand that mysterious thing we call higher education.

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 The first hidden virtue within our curriculum, I think, is “truthfulness.” This is indeed the first virtue that Paul mentioned, although I have expanded it from just the “true” to “working with each other and living in truthfulness.” Sometimes we speak of this as “academic integrity”—a euphemism for not cheating. But it goes much, much further than that. We don’t often claim that we have the truth, for we know that truth must be shown in truthful action; it is most clearly seen when we live in the truth, rather than in some particular theory, or articulation of it. The truth exists in God. And Jesus, we believe, is the way, the truth and the life. But we ourselves, with all of our scholarly tools and methods, will only have an approximation of that truth. Even the great philosophers like Plato knew that the truth was hard to find and impossible to utter. St. Augustine claimed that we would never be at peace until we rest fully in God, who is the truth. For the classicists among us, he put that statement in the subjunctive mood, indicating that we are always seeking the truth and peace of God and in this world cannot claim to have it in fullness as our own. Those who claim full truth, whether it be as knowledge or a particular vision of how we ought to live in this world, know neither what nor who they are nor the depth and height of what they seek, said St. Augustine.

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Tucked into the FPU Idea is a statement about this search for truth: “All authentic knowledge and experience are unified under God. All aspects of reality are understood to be parts of a larger whole. There is no contradiction then between the truth of revelation, of scholarly investigation and of action.” This is our beginning–we see no contradiction between the truth we seek in the laboratory, the library, the classroom, in experiences working and serving and the truth we seek in scripture, in worship, and in following Jesus.

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 The second virtue that we hope has become a part of you also builds on our understanding of community, and it lies behind our recognition that professors are more than advisors, they are mentors. This second virtue I will call “Imitation.”

 Most institutions of higher learning, and the modern world in general, believe in the myth that learning is about facts and reason, data and skills. All you have to do is get the right information, practice the skills to manipulate that information and you will have what you need. How simple it would be if that were the case.

 It is never that simple. St. Paul says in Phil 4:9, the reading you heard earlier, “those things which you learned and received and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Imitation is in the seeing, receiving, and doing. “What you received and saw in me…do.” Your professors and others you have worked with in the library, in student life, in the Regional Centers, on committees and projects, in work in the community, and on the athletic field have let you in on their lives and professions. When you have researched with them, traveled with them, discussed difficult topics, struggled over choices to make, examined the problems in your field of study, they have become models for imitation. We might paraphrase Paul’s message like this, “what you practiced in the classroom or in the community or in research, what you saw me model for you, do this and you will be on your way to learning.” 

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 There is one final characteristic or virtue of learning that composes our hidden curriculum. It is caring or love. It too is part of the larger community ethos of Fresno Pacific. I learned a long time ago that one of the secrets of the success of our faculty was that they cared for or loved their students. Our professors would do whatever they could to help their students learn, succeed and move on prepared for the next stage of their lives.

Care is a less emotional way of saying love. But it is the word that our greater community uses often. It lies beneath the language of “service”.

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 Someday you will find yourself saying something familiar and you won’t be able to place it. Or you will pursue a problem or question all the way to the bottom until you are sure you have as much of the truth as you can find. Or you will respond to a colleague, a student or a customer with care and love for their needs, hurts or aspirations. And after a moment’s reflection you will say, ‘I remember, Professor or coach or RD or a staff person…you fill in the name…said or did that” and you will be reminded of the hidden curriculum of truthfulness, imitation, and of care and love, that is now a part of who you are and what you have become as a graduate.

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