Beware of Unintended Curriculum

Beware of Unintended Curriculum

Know the dangers involved with teaching what you never meant to teach.

My wife and I were visiting Southern California on vacation when we decided to stop by Mission San Juan Capistrano—an adobe chapel complex founded by Franciscan monks in 1776. In the back of the mission was a small replica of the gardens that produced much of the monks' food for hundreds of years.

As I walked through the garden, I noticed a large sign tacked in front of a particularly leafy bush. It read, "Please don't chase or catch our lizards. They lose their tails if you grab them." (Click here to take a peek for yourself.) Sure enough, looking down at the bush I noticed several lizards lounging camouflaged against the leaves. They were ordinary, as lizards go—small and dull-green, with flecks of white or yellow streaked across their slim bodies. Nothing flashy.

But you can probably guess the first thought that went through my mind after reading that sign and getting a look at those lizards—I would like to see a lizard's tail fall off … . If I hadn't been with my wife and young (impressionable) son, I'm sure I would have reached out right then and there and grabbed a lizard just to see what would happen next.

Thus the danger of unintended curriculum.

"For What I Want to Do, I Do Not Do … "

When engaging in any kind of teaching or facilitation experience, we generally approach each lesson with a certain goal in mind. There are specific principles that we would like to explore with our co-learners—certain truths we hope they understand better after our lesson.

That is our intended curriculum. It's what we want to teach.

For example, consider a small-group leader who has structured a discussion around John 3:16: "For ...

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