Swiss-army-knives and inquisition

By Ivàn Diego

“Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition”

Michael Palin as Cardinal Ximénez

In … “As in many instances of educational reform there are tensions between rhetoric and practice, and actors (teachers, students) are not passive spectators of whatever we’ve got in store for them. What may look like a failure to adopt the model fully and faithfully can be observed under a whole new light if reframed as a process of appropriation and resistance and that I will touch upon in the next article.” So please, proceed to boarding gate.

Entrepreneurial Education is gaining more and more traction in a landscape of widespread curricular reform. But in fact, this may well be an understatement. Current debates seem to suggest Entrepreneurship Education is not just an element to be integrated and reinforced but a process of education reform in itself, to such an extent it reminds me of a Swiss-army-knife.

Let me elaborate on this. Cutting across the three different processes of educational reform identified by Kliebard our Entrepreneurial Education comes equipped with a mix of systemic restructuration, child-centered education, changes in teaching and learning methods and a clear concern with evidence and evaluation. Isn´t it adorable? Who can resist it when it pretends to be all things to all people?

Winds blow favorably for entrepreneurship education and dark clouds are just ignored. Criticism hardly ever crosses the threshold of entrepreneurship education events and the evidence base is scant and inconclusive to say the least but there’s no place for grumpiness in the realm of the entrepreneurially minded. Some questions ensue: What does it take to reach such a broad buy-in? Is this just the result of an unavoidable, quasi-natural order of events or does this discourse become dominant via hammering insistence? But more importantly, what’s going on at school level? Is it reasonable to conclude that the general trend is mirrored in the (sometimes isolated) classroom outposts scattered all around Europe? What’s the percentage of teachers actively trying to implement it in a substantial way? How many classrooms remain untouched by the tenets of the entrepreneurial education movement? What happens when predictable reform rhetoric uttered by an army of enlightened gurus and overtly enthusiastic policymakers comes into direct conflict with stark institutional realities? Bear with me for a story rarely told, one of heresy, resistance and appropriation by a throng of pagan teachers.

At this stage, in a Monty Pythonesque turn of events, you would expect the Educational Inquisition in nice red uniforms bursting into the classroom. Amongst their weaponry are such diverse elements as distrust in teachers, ruthless belief in efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to Steve Jobs. “What do you plead, teacher? Innocent? Bring in the rack!!!”

All joking aside, in the following lines I’ll provide a succinct summary of two papers attempting to reframe teacher construction of meaning and adoption of entrepreneurship education as a tale of resistance and appropriation. Let’s get to it.

In a critical vein, Komulainen et al paper explores pre and in-service teachers’ engagement with the discourses of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education. Both pre- and in-service teachers drew a clear boundary delimiting the narrow and broad definition of entrepreneurship. Whereas the former was resisted as a vehicle for the transmission of neoliberal ideology the latter was seen under a much more favorable light by teachers.

Teacher responses imply the broad definition “as a concept and idea remained uncontested because it fits in well with the traditional values of education and the idea of educating students to be hard-working responsible citizens”. Thus authors suggest entrepreneurship in its broadest sense is a “Trojan Horse through which the neoliberal education policy infiltrates the schools”. The trick seems to have worked. Our fervent ardor and insistence on that “can-do” and “do-good” mentality seemingly hardwired into the DNA of every single entrepreneurial self and/or entrepreneurial endeavor have paved the way for a broader acceptance among educators. In its concluding statement authors leave the door open for future research so as “to examine the ways in which the actors of the school – in real life situations – negotiate with the contradictions of entrepreneurship education and try to solve the dilemmas embedded within”.

This is precisely what Woods & Woods set out to do in “Lighting the fires of entrepreneurialism? Constructions of meaning in an English inner city academy”. Keeping at arm’s length the usual patronizing view of teachers as passive and powerless subjects utterly embracing or just abiding by the dictates of the neoliberal agenda, authors draw a much more complex web of interactions and meanings emerging from their case study of an inner city Academy in England. The authors see a new scenario opening when staff and students are viewed as creative social agents. In this scenario business entrepreneurialism still exerts a robust and evident influence on their understanding and approach, but alternative groundings for entrepreneurialism rooted in democratic and collective values are increasingly taken into account leading the authors to suggest “a general appetite exists to forge a more radical entrepreneurialism than that prescribed solely by a private competitive business view of the world”.  But could this association of ethical, relational impulses and public and community-oriented aims just constitute another lesson in Trojan horse riding as I am tempted to think? Not really. According to the authors, what staff (and students) “are doing is not reducible simply to 'discursive subsumption'”. On the contrary “multiple facets of entrepreneurialism are evident” in their accounts and some of them qualify as a counter-narrative in stark opposition to a narrow view of (entrepreneurship) education “focused on individualistic, instrumental and economistic goals”

Far from being confined to teachers with “leftist” leanings in inner city Academies or Finnish schools, resistance and appropriation seem to be more far-reaching. Last year the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) issued a statement in response to the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan. Concerns voiced over “the very narrow perception of entrepreneurship” and the role envisaged for education which “is not to fulfill continuously the changing economic and labor market objectives”. In line with Woods & Woods observations, ETUCE refuses to consider entrepreneurship education as “competitiveness training” highlighting instead its role in preparing students to obtain democratic skills. At this point it is worth noting that ETUCE represents 135 Teacher Unions and 5.5 million teachers in EU.

We shall take the easy way out, wear the red hat of inquisition and zealously prosecute the “pagans” to curb resistance and appropriation or build another Trojan Foal. Alternatively I would suggest digging a little deeper to better understand this dynamic and put into question our entrenched and silicon-plated vision of entrepreneurial education.  Let’s confront the risk of sounding boring and ask ourselves more often what’s the weather like in our classrooms in spite of assuming wholeheartedly Global Education keeps warming to the idea of more entrepreneurialism in schools.

Additional Reading

ETUCE (2013) Statement on  the European Commission’s Communication on Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan. Available online at: http://etuce.homestead.com/Statements/2013/FINAL_ETUCE_statement_on_Entrepreneurship_2020_Action_Plan.pdf

Kliebard, HM (1988) Success and Failure in educational reform: Are there historical “lessons”?  Peabody Journal of Education. Vol. 65. Iss 2.

Komulainen K., Naskali,P., Korhonen, M. & Keskitalo-Foley, S.(2011) Internal Entrepreneurship--A Trojan Horse of the Neoliberal Governance of Education? Finnish Pre- and In-Service Teachers' Implementation of and Resistance towards Entrepreneurship Education. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, v9 n1 p341-374. Available online at: http://www.jceps.com/PDFs/09-1-13.pdf

Woods, P. A., & Woods, G. J. (2011). Lighting the fires of entrepreneurialism?: Constructions of meaning in an English inner city academy. International Journal of Technology and Educational Marketing, 1(1), 1-24.10.4018/ijtem.2011010101