The University of Oklahoma and the Hidden Curriculum of Its Early Years
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A key part of the founding myth of the University of Oklahoma is the imagery of its first president, David Ross Boyd, combing the untamed territory in a buggy for potential students, promising that “no one will find he is too poor or old for a course of study.” However, twenty years after Boyd’s departure from Norman, William Bennett Bizzell would remind students that “...You are, therefore, selected lives – selected for special intellectual attainment by virtue of the mental capacities which you have revealed.” This thesis examines the tension between these two visions for the University. The first vision—the founding myth created by David Ross Boyd emphasizes a populist vision of why the university existed: to provide a broad based “liberal education” to the many people in the state whose access to education had been both limited and shaped by the pragmatic necessities of their lives. The statement by President Bizzell—especially his emphasis on “selected lives” and on encouraging “special intellectual attainment” suggests a more elitist public mission, one that was required by the imperative that OU become be the incubator of Oklahoma’s future political, social and economic leaders. From the very beginning, these two understandings of OU’s public mission were present and in tension with each other, with the more elite vision gaining strength over the next century. The thesis argues that this ever-present tension, and the university’s institutional tilt over time toward a more elite, and restrictive understanding of “higher education” can be documented by studying the “hidden curriculum” of the university, an institutional force which every day decisively shaped the social and intellectual environment at the university into the present. Furthermore, his hidden curriculum is not a unique feature of the University of Oklahoma; rather, it is the defining feature of higher education throughout the United States.
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