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Dead Dogs

The previous blog revisited a paper from the mid 1980s – one which owes in origins to work done in the late 60s and early 70s – and argued that we need to think about the purpose and process of movement. The simple idea of thinking “why are we moving?” (i.e. to what purpose?) then allows us to think about “how we are moving” (i.e. the process). In this way we don’t move in the same way for every activity but think of how to best achieve our aims. The blog concluded by suggesting that, currently and historically, the process often comes before the purpose but by flipping the equation we might just end up with different results.

This week’s blog looks at the ways that we might start to notice and then challenge the ‘things’ that hide in plain sight under our noses. These things’ appear elusive and often go unseen and unchallenged and yet they are aspects of our lives and our practices that we might, perhaps, feel we should challenge and change if only we recognised that (a) they were there and (b) we should do something about them. The blog concludes with a challenge - “ can you turn the camera on yourself and try get a sight of these ‘things’ and if you do what might you do with what you see?”


Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education


Paper 86:

Kirk, D. (1992/2012). Physical Education, Discourse, and Ideology: Bringing the Hidden Curriculum into view. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 261-285) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

I am in the early stages of collaborating with a great scholar from Australia, Nicole Mockler, and I have borrowed a little of her/our work for this week’s blog. In particular this is the story of the ‘dead dog’ and relates to how people ‘inside’ the school and ‘outside’ the school see things differently.

The story (if you like) goes like this.

An outsider (could be a researcher, or a new member of staff etc.) enters the school for the first time and is met by an insider (the head, or Head of a department, or a teacher etc.) and once the pleasantries are out of the way is asked what they think of the school. The outsider smiles and complements the insider on the school and their trip but then frowning asks “but what is it with the dead dog on the driveway?” The insider looks confounded and replies “What dog? There is no dog on the drive.” However, both are adamant that they are right and in the end they go out to explore and sure enough there is a dead dog on the drive. The insider is shocked and can’t understand how this could possibly be there but, as they both watch from a distance, they noticed that other insiders step over and around it – appearing (like the insider) to be oblivious to its presence. In contrast many outsiders notice the dog and while they look upset none are brave enough or discourteous enough to mention it to the school.

The moral of the story is that often we are blind to the ‘dead dogs’ in our schools, universities, departments or classrooms. Yet the outsider, with the right remit, is often the only person who can point it out to us. However, that is not a great solution for future development. Instead we need to put ourselves, every so often, in the role of the outsider and stop once in the while to smell the coffee or see the dog.

This is what Kirk’s paper suggests, just not in the same blunt terms as I have used. There are many practices that occur in education that, if we truly noticed them, we would be horrified with others and ourselves and yet we either don’t or choose not to notice them. They might be small things but they are often societal things – traditions and expectations that are, perhaps, no longer fit for purpose (if indeed they ever were). Yet how do you ‘see’ them? I once turned the microphone on myself and in two lessons sought to find out what I said and did (not what I thought I said and did but what I actually did do). The transcription of those two lessons was the biggest catalyst for change that I every experienced. I simply hadn’t ‘seen’ certain aspects of my practice and I truly deluded myself in some areas. I was pleased and I did feel that I was good at some things but certainly not at everything I did. So that’s my challenge. Turn the cameras or microphones on you. Not for formal but for personal reasons and try and see if you have any ‘dead dogs’ of your own.


The Paper

Kirk revisits the notion of the Hidden Curriculum more than twenty years after the idea entered mainstream education. The hidden curriculum could be seen as an umbrella term for the types of learning that we feel occurs in schools and universities but which, when pushed, struggle to articulate let alone assess. It is the social behaviour that you learn while sitting in a lecture on biomechanics or the understanding of power (and your place within that structure) when your dog eats your homework. It is not a purposeful and positive activity but is learning nonetheless.

Kirk argues that, for some, the term ‘the hidden curriculum’ has come to represent a “convenient way of describing all the goings-on in classrooms and gyms over which teachers feel they can never gain control.” For others it is a sinister thing that suggests “subversive and perverse knowledge.” To find a way of better describing the hidden curriculum Kirk draws on the work of Dodds and her notions of the explicit, convert, null and hidden (i.e. what is written, sneaked in, not taught, and unknown) curriculum. However, as the paper has previously featured in this blog series I refer you there for a fuller explanation.

Either way, the idea of the Hidden Curriculum offers us a frame with which to have difficult conversations with others and ourselves about education. The ambiguity of the term should not put us off using it. Indeed, Kirk argues that we are guilty of assuming that terms mean the same thing to others as they do to ourselves. Using examples such as teaching he asks us to consider what the idea or term means. Does it mean planning, marking, task setting, demonstrating, monitoring? Does it mean all of these or none of these or just some of these? Is it chalk and talk or skills and drills? Is it collaborative or competitive? When the same ideas are applied to learning or physical education, for example, what do they mean to you, to me, to her, to him?

In arguing for a way to explore (and make tangible) the hidden curriculum Kirk argues that we need to explore the different discourse and ideologies that exist around physical education. Discourse, he suggests, “refers to the ways in which people communicate their understanding of their own and others' activities and of events in the world around them.” In contrast ideology (at least the expression of it) is positioned as the “linking and fixing together of otherwise separate elements of meaning making in ways that seem natural, inevitable, and uncontestable.” Crudely (and through my lens and not Kirk’s) I would suggest that one strong discourse around physical education might be that physical education can play its role in ensuring that no one is obese because everyone takes enough exercise and eats healthy. A strong ideology would be that everyone – regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality, disability, socio-economic status has shared and equal access to physical activity (indeed that no prejudices exist).

I suppose the heart of this paper focuses on the distance that we stand from both of these – the discourse and the ideology – and that the hidden curriculum (if we are prepared to explore it) offers us a way of beginning to understand where our own ‘dead dogs’ lie. It is only by doing this that we can start to move from fantasy towards a better notion of reality – one that, perhaps, prompts us to action.



What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.



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On Sunday 28 September at 08:54 @ImSporticus said
I think this might be one of the most difficult things to do. It becomes very hard to see the 'dead dogs' that you have created, especially when the investment of time, effort and emotion of creating them probably blinds you from them. Personally I feel it is easier to engage in a dialogue of critique from outside that forces you to justify why you are doing things. If you can't fully justify them to yourself then you have to be open to refine them. Should PE Departments make links with other PE Departments and do a review? I'm sure both departments would get something out of it. The viewing department will see things done in different ways and bring innovation into their department if it is needed, the department that is being reviewed will have to justify their approaches.

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