Summary: In this spoken word performance entitled “Somewhere in America,” three high school students share their experiences as youth in America’s educational system. The video can be used to illustrate features of the structural-functionalist perspective, and specifically how sociologists working within this framework—e.g., Emile Durkheim, Robert Merton, and Talcott Parsons—distinguished between the manifest and latent functions (and dysfunctions) of various social phenomena. Here, the teenagers discuss the functions and implications of the manifest versus latent curriculum, and how these two curriculums play out in the lives of children. The poets argue that the manifest curriculum, which is the content teachers are required to teach, is not what students remember most; rather, the girls suggest that the latent or hidden curriculum is the knowledge that becomes more deeply embedded in students’ memories and daily interactions. The hidden curriculum refers to the values, beliefs, and attitudes that are transmitted to students through the education system; a latent function of these hidden lessons is that these help to socialize young individuals to form a more “cohesive” society. In doing so, the views and values of the dominant culture are coached into the minds of young school-goers. Arguing that the biggest lessons in school “won’t come from a syllabus,” the words of these poets reinforce decades of social scientific research stating that schools go farther than simply advancing the academic success of children; schools also instill social and cultural ideas within students (for one prominent example, see Ann Arnett Ferguson’s research on the role of public schools in constructing Black masculinity). The group closes by saying, “The greatest lessons [in school] are the ones you don’t remember learning.” While we’ve chosen to highlight the structural-functionalist contours of the poem, viewers are encouraged to think about how the teens’ poem can be read through other foundational sociological lenses, namely, social conflict theory and symbolic interactionism. For example, the students’ attention to power inequalities that emerge from the education system resemble a social conflict approach. This supplementary video explaining the three foundational sociological perspectives and how they relate to education can help viewers with this analysis.
Submitted By: Jordan Grier and Valerie Chepp