The role of experience

The relevance and value of using theory-dependent or traditional pedagogies in enterprise education have often been questioned in the light of entrepreneurship being a subject dealing almost exclusively with doing and learning from experience  (Anderson & Jack, 2009).  Good practices in the field favor strategies in the “enterprise mode” of teaching, referring to pedagogies that are more learner-centered.  In this perspective, knowledge (and meanings) are constructed by the learners themselves from what they do (or experience).    Literature in enterprise education is replete with examples where educators provide all sorts of “experiences” to produce entrepreneurship knowledge in their students. Experiential learning techniques feature in enterprise education for levels 2 to 4 (technician, artisanal and artist) in Anderson and Jack’s typology of entrepreneurial roles.

Limitations of experiential learning

            The term experiential learning has been used to designate a whole range of educational strategies from kinesthetic-directed instructional activities in the classroom to special workplace projects interspersed with critical dialogue led by a teacher-facilitator in enterprise education (i.e, the mix of strategies used to develop technician, artisanal and artist roles in the typology described above).  Experiential learning has also been used as a term to distinguish the ongoing meaning making from theoretical knowledge and nondirected informal life experience from formal education ( (Fenwick, 2000).  

            Many of the things we do at the OBCCS can be classified under the genre of experiential learning.  We use images, songs, field trips,  strategy games, structured learning experiences, simulation games and actual business ventures.  One of the games, for example, is EntrePower, which tackles the empowerment of the poor.  At the start of the game,  the class is divided into squatter families and are given the objective to rise from poverty.  Then they get to explore livelihood options: get employed, start a business, or just borrow money from a loan shark.  Based on their choice, they plan their families, budget their finances, and conceptualize their business.  They either exercise or ignore savings habits and are made to deal with dire situations like house demolitions and natural disasters.

             Considerable pains have been undergone to train OBCCS teachers in the pedagogy of experiential learning,  to equip them for engaging students in constructive reflections.  The Experiential Learning Cycle is used to help them students move from their personal experience,  publishing, analysis, generalizing, and application stages (Pfeiffer & Jones, 1973). 

             After examining what literature had to say about the philosophy of experiential learning, particularly as applied to enterprise education,  I am beginning to think deeply about the way we are implementing Experiential Learning at OBCCS .  For all our celebration of experiential learning as student-centered, we might actually have been implementing it in a teacher-oriented way, enacting hierarchies of epistemological authority that might be counterproductive to developing the enterprising spirit in our students.

             In experiential learning, the individual learner is viewed as able to independently reflect on lived experience and then interprets and generalizes this experience to form mental structures.  These mental structures are stored from memory as concepts that can be represented, expressed, and transferred to new situations. 

             Portraying learners as constructors of their own knowledge is from a constructivist perspective.  “Reflection as processing” relies on an old input-output metaphor of learning in which the system becomes input to itself.  It falsely presumes a cut universe in which a person is distinct from the environment and from their own experiences, and reflection is posited as an integrator, bridging such separations.    The constructivist view further considers the individual a primary actor in the process of knowledge construction, and in this dominant humanist view, the learner is assumed to be a stable, unitary self that is regulated by its own intellectual activity.  The constructivist views the learner as fundamentally autonomous from his or her environment.   Access to experience through rational reflection is assumed, as is the learner’s capacity, motivation, and power to mobilize the reflective process.  It is as if knowledge is a third substance that is created in the person’s head as it moves from one context to the next,  and it is supposed to stay constant in his or her head regardless of surroundings.  Social relations of power (such as defined by language and cultural practices) are not factored in as part of knowledge construction.  Viewed in this light, therefore,  experiential learning can actually be promoting ideas that reinforce knowledge as defined by the teacher.  Only the experience is student-centered,  the reflection part in the cycle is extracted, structured, given meaning by a facilitator /teacher who is in a position of power by virtue of language, class, gender, race, or class. 

             Contemporary theories emanating from post-modernist, feminist and anti-racist perspectives (Fenwick, 2000, calls themradical perspectives, Michelson (1996) calls them resistance theories)  have  challenged views of knowledge that promote transcendental rationality and individual cognition in line with dominant power structures.  According to these perspectives :

             Experience  is not transparent.  Far from giving us unmediated access to reality,  it is mediated by a host of social and discursive formulations that tell us what the world is like and who we are within it… Experience enters our consciousness already organized by ideology, language and material history.  This means, in turn, that experience and knowledge are neither chronologigally nor logically distinct…but are mutually determined (Michelson, 1996).  

             As an alternative view to personally constructed knowledge,  asituative perspective views knowledge as socially constructed andsituated.  This line of thinking maintains that learning is rooted in the situation in which a person participates (i.e., situated cognition), not in the head of the person as intellectual concepts produced by reflection.  Knowledge results as part of the very process of participation in the immediate situation.  The role of the educator is to help students participate meaningfully in the practices they choose to enter.  The goal is to improve participation in an activity, and students improve by becoming more attuned to constraints and affordances of different real situations.

             One can argue that the portrayal of a helping educator (in the situative perspective) contradicts certain premises of situated cognition, since the deliberate insertion of an actor with particular intentions changes the purpose and flow of the activity (trainers in the Philippines sometimes call it facipulation).  Educators cannot separate themselves (their own gender, cultures, class) from their answer to the question, “What constitutes meaningful participation in this group of students?”

             The situative perspective offers value to enterprise education in that it allows insights into how the different elements in a learning environment interact to produce particular actions and goals.  The participation metaphor also invokes themes of togetherness, solidarity, and collaboration, which could promote risk taking and inquiry, both important competencies in entrepreneurship.  Our teachers will do well to ask the questions proposed by BG Wilson and Myers (in (Fenwick, 2000, p. 255) ” Is the learning environment successful in accomplishing its learning goals?  How do the various participants, tools and objects interact together?  What meanings are constructed? How do the interactions and meanings help or hinder desired learning?” 

             Critical cultural perspectives, on the other hand, challenge the apolitical position of situated cognition.  Relations and practices related to dimensions of race, class, gender, and other personal complexities determine flows of power, which in turn determine different individuals’ ability to participate meaningfully in particular practices of systems ( (Fenwick, 2000).  The situative perspective needs to address the question of positionality, just as Ellworth (1997) put it:        

            Each time we address someone, we take up a position within knowledge, power, and desire in relation to them, and assign to them a position in relation to ourselves and to a context.” These positions are interconnected,  and in a constant flux, for they change whenever we turn to some new person or situation. 

             Critical cultural perspectives are more helpful than situative perspectives in prescribing teaching strategies in situations where relationships are unfair or dysfunctional, such as in  entrepreneurship among women, cultural minorities, or hacienda workers.

              Critical cultural perspectives  are classified under social reconstructionism  philosophy of education.  The perspective focuses on power as a core issue, and is concerned with the development ofcollective conscientization, praxis and action for social change.  This philosophical tradition addresses issues of social justice and oppression such as literacy, civil rights, labor rights, indigenous rights and gender rights, to name a few.  Built on the work of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed ,  it has been embodied in political and liberation struggles, including education.  As in progressive and humanistic thinking,  learners are seen as active creators of their own lives, histories and futures.   These three philosophies have a critical view of relations and systems of power and dominance.  They see systems of political, economic and social oppression as interlocking and symbiotic, and see the need for educational interventions to address the complex interconnections of social constructs such as race, class and gender. 

Illustration: Paying attention to gender issues as an instrument for social justice

             The social reconstructionist perspective offers tools for tracing complex power relations and their consequences.  The field has been peppered with theorizing on a variety of cross-cutting issues that affect learning in any field, including gender, ideology, race, identity, and many more.  In enterprise education,  gender and race have earned much attention.   

             A summary article entitled “Women Entrepreneurship Across Racial Lines:  Current Status, Critical Issues and Implications” (Smith-Hunter, 2004)  gives a good glimpse on the differential consequence of gender in entrepreneurship.  For example, Smith-Hunter found that among white men, the primary reason for entry into an entrepreneurial career had been the opportunity presenting itself and having the resources to undertake such an endeavor.  However, for women and minority groups (i.e., those with less power and dominance in US society), the primary reason was the systematic exclusion from lucrative, mainstream labor-market opportunities and the less than-proportionate compensation they receive for the same mainstream labor-market functions when compared to their White male counterparts.   The literature indicated that men, and in particular White men (in the case of the culture studied by Smith-Hunter), always enjoyed and continued to enjoy a favorable position not only in the labor market but also to entrepreneurial endeavors as well. 

             The situation might be different in the context of the Philippines, where it is generally believed and observed that women entrepreneurship is omnipresent (Madarang & Habito, 2007).  Compared to other Asian countries,  it appears that opportunities were equal for men and women in our country and that women entrepreneurship is socially acceptable here.  Madarang and Habito have also said that gender equality and the tradition that women supplement the family income were one of the contributing factors to entrepreneurship.  However, despite claims ofabsence of barriers to women engaging in businesses,  they said that social services available to them to continue work on their venture after starting a family were insufficient.  Apparently, when women do succeed in business, they go through new challenges that have to do with society’s expectations regarding masculine-feminine roles.  Consider this situation described by Madarang and Habito (2007):  among nascent (up to three months old) businesses, 69% were predominantly women, but the profile reverses (66% men) for established (3.5 years old) businesses.  Where did the women go?  The authors suggested that women tended to be relied upon to start a business while the husband may still be tied up in a regular job, until the business has established for the husband to take on full-time involvement.  The women in the study cited family time management as their single biggest obstacle.  Interestingly, Mindanao women appeared least impeded by any factor on their business activities,  suggesting a higher degree of independence among women in Mindanao compared to those elsewhere in the country.   Women in the lowest socio-economic segments found greatest difficulty in balancing family time management with setting up a business, with 35% citing it as a problem (against the 20% national average). 

               I n teaching entrepreneurship (or any subject for that matter) with a social reconstructionist perspective,  teachers can play a role in bringing to consciousness the unequal power relations between the sexes and the ways in which women and girls continue to be oppressed in society.  This requires more than just the challenging of sexism or sexist practices in schools.  Teachers also need to consider the dominant meanings and images of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, and how these gendered images and stereotypes relate to, and interact with, other masculinities and femininities which are unfair and unjust.  For example,  teachers need to be conscious of how they talk about sports – do they perpetuate gendered hierarchies of power and privilege (Richardson, 2010)?  Whenever they talk about certain businesses as suitable to women and others are suitable men,  who stands to benefit from such divisions of labor?

            I believe that critical social science offers a powerful frame on which to build our schools’ philosophy.  We share its assumption that contemporary society is oppressive in that it systematically encourages the development of certain societal groups at the expense of others.  We know that without reforms, teaching our young people the contents of the traditional curriculum will not, despite their best efforts, make them competitive with graduates from middle class or upper class neighborhoods.  Our departures from the usual DepEd curriculum with a slant for enterprise education have only meant more work for all of us at the OBCCS, work which have gone unpaid and unrecognized, but which we undertake anyway for the joy of liberating a few children to appropriate the fruits of education for themselves.   There is a twinge of discomfort in knowing that this perspective comes with feminist philosophical assumptions (Fay, 1977; Lather, 1991),  but nonetheless,  we recognize that even such a discomfort is part of the process of liberation. The end of critical social science is to expose the ways in which social and cultural realities may be hindering the human potential of all people.

                  Social reconstructionism is a philosophy that underscores the role of teachers in leading the young in programs of social engineering and reform.  Many social reconstructionists may difer on particulars (such as those described between situative and critical cultural theorists above) but they do agree on certain premises, namely :  (1) All philosophies, ideologies, and theories are culturally based and are conditioned by our living at a given time and in a particular place (thus, the concept of positional and situated identities in Martin and Gunten’s 2002 article).  (2) Culture is dynamic and therefore in a constant process of growth and change, (thus, Morgaine (1994) refers to fluidity of identities and meaningsand (3) people can refashion or reshape culture so that it promotes human growth and development (thus, the potential role of education for social change and activism as exemplified by Deuchar’s enterprise for life model (2008).

               Critical educators say that teachers’ and students’ identities are negotiated, contested and mediated in and through the process of schooling.  Because teachers are positioned by their gender, identity and social class, their biographical references are often reflected in their practice.  It is realistic to assume that teachers construct their voice as a function of position.  Van Gunten and Martin quote Maher and Tetrault (1994) as saying ” the concept of positionality points to the contextual and relational factors as crucial for defining not only our identities but also our knowledge as teachers and teacher educators and students in any given situation.”



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