Yale College does not have a core curriculum. Even Yale’s distributional requirements offer diversity. There is no one course all students are required to take before graduating. The University makes it clear that each student’s education is completely unique — but is it? As the year begins and students trawl through the 2,000 classes in the Bluebook, it is worth thinking about Yale’s “hidden curriculum,” the invisible education that every student receives regardless of what courses they take. To the extent that it prepares students for life in a capitalist society, it is remarkably successful at easing Yale students into the real world.
The first course in Yale’s “hidden curriculum” is an introduction to self-promotional advocacy (almost certainly a Writing credit). Want to get into a popular seminar? Send an email to the professor waxing lyrical about your interest in the field or boasting about the work you have done in an area. If you want to get into this fraternity or that club, be sure to grab meals with all the people who matter and present yourself as the “right fit” for the group.
When they graduate, Yale students will hone the same skills to rise through the ranks of large bureaucracies, be it the Central Intelligence Agency or the Peace Corps. They will apply the same capacity for self-advocacy in other spheres of life, whether at the parent-teacher meeting to ensure their child isn’t shortchanged, or at the hospital to ensure their rights as patients are protected. Far from being a vessel of impractical knowledge, steeped in the liberal arts, Yale teaches skills that are not just preprofessional, but “trans-professional.”
Offered as an uninterrupted, four-year sequence, the second course in Yale’s “hidden curriculum” is about building coalitions and forming blocs. Returning upperclassmen are living in suites they formed last spring, often through a long-drawn-out process of negotiation, compromise and strategy. For some, it would have been an acrimonious process. They would have seen the Machiavellian streaks in themselves and in their friends — or people they thought were their friends. Armed with this dexterity, it’s unsurprising so many graduates head to Wall Street or Washington.
We also can’t forget “Theory and Practice of Instrumental Rationality,” the third course in Yale’s invisible Bluebook. Rather than just throw themselves into something they love, students learn the need to “maximize their utility” by satisfying various academic, social and extracurricular goals. Faculty advisors are narrowly seen as “resources” to further one’s career. Whether you’re researching cancer or building homes in developing countries, these enterprises are all summer opportunities to “build your narrative.” This is obviously a prerequisite to some more advanced courses such as “Getting into Law School” or “Secret Societies.”
We live in a society that rewards managerial capitalism, so it’s a good class to have on your transcript. Prospective employers will be glad to know you will see your colleagues and future subordinates as resources to be exhausted after wealth has been extracted. They also will know that you’re willing to work long hours on a project far after your interest in it has waned.
To be fair, there are also electives in the “hidden curriculum” that are virtuous. For instance, the Egalitarianism Department would get strong course evaluations. It’s hard to come out of Yale without having a fluency in the language of the Left. You’ll know how to decry the patriarchy or when to check your privilege (everyone has it as you’ll learn after hearing the word ‘intersectionality’ for the first time), even after you graduate from Yale and gather with your roommates at Whole Foods or some other bastion of gentrification.
So what is a Yale student to do about a class he can neither drop nor take Credit/D/Fail? As we begin the new academic year, I propose we critically challenge and scrutinize the assumptions that form the invisible Bluebook. It’s also important to note that this “hidden curriculum” is relatively values-neutral. The lessons we learn from the invisible Bluebook can be applied for good or evil. Altruism without savvy is often futile. But conversely, acumen without an inner ethical core can lead to unscrupulous enterprise. Think of your goals outside of Yale’s framework — would you have still held them if you attended a different institution with its own set of invisible courses?
Or, like most of us, you could just ignore the readings, cram for the final exam and get an A- on the “hidden curriculum.”
Jun Yan Chua is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .