Dare entrepreneurial education be entrepreneurial?

by Ivan Diego

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

H.L .Mencken

Entrepreneurship education is losing its edge when it comes to walk the talk. Disruptive, creative thinking is celebrated in countless keynote speeches, policy papers, and Talent Shows as the only road out of this socio-economic quagmire. But in spite of the serious flaws of the system, the basic tenets go unscathed and creativity firmly hold on leash.

Let’s first buy into the complacent portrait of the entrepreneur as a young disruptive gamechanger and secondly, let’s pretend entrepreneurship education behavior is human (we do it all the time with Markets, don´t we?) My point is dare entrepreneurial education be entrepreneurial it should be aiming at subverting the current status quo and finding new ways forward. One would expect to see education tinkering with possibilities, engaged in a frantical brainstorming maelstrom to come up with ideas shaping the future to come. Instead, the shelves of our libraries fill up with “disruptive” self-help books that just prove right Mencken’s statement on the ever present emergence of a clear, simple and wrong answer to a complex problem.

Structural and economic issues left aside, this fiercely simplistic, condescending and insulting exposé of our current post-modern problems celebrates the ongoing exodus of labor to freelance status (also unemployment) accelerated by the economic downturn and compels us to step on the gas of the Gig Economy. In a slightly more critical vein, some authors and institutions provide a counterpoint to such brilliant future for a freelance economy of young and beautiful urban knowledge workers. Read this Fast Company article where Sarah Kessler debriefs on her one-month first-hand experience in the Gig Economy:

“For one month, I became the "micro-entrepreneur" touted by companies like TaskRabbit, Postmates, and Airbnb. Instead of the labor revolution I had been promised, all I found was hard work, low pay, and a system that puts workers at a disadvantage.” (Kessler)

And Kessler is not alone in this sudden realization of the perils of contingent and transient work. In the US, Freelancers Union (isn´t it an oxymoron to the ears of hardcore entrepreneurship advocates?) has over 251000 members & counting that believe “all workers should have the freedom to build meaningful, connected, and independent lives – backed by a system of mutual and public support.”

As if this were not enough, the plot gets a new twist when one starts considering the emergence and renewed interest in forms of peer production. We’re witnessing the appearance of small cracks on the basement of the logic of the market. Or is it a great rift? Authors like Bauwens suggest the mutualization of knowledge (free software, free culture, open design and hardware movements) and mutualization of physical infrastructures are key indicators of a transition into the Logic of the Commons. What does this allegedly new productive system and value logic look like? See comparative table below:

    Comparative Table: The Logic of the Market versus the Logic of the Commons

 

Market

Commons

Focus

What can I sell?Exchange value

What do we need?Use value

Core beliefs

Scarcity

Plenty

Homo oeconomicus

Homo cooperans

It's about resources (allocation).

It's about us.

Governance

Market-State

Polycentric / Peer-to-Peer Governance

Decision making

hierarchical

horizontal

Command (Power, Law, Violence)

Consensus, Free Cooperation, self-organization

Social relationships

Centralization of power (monopoly)

Decentralization of power(autonomy)

Property

Possession

Access to rival resources

Limited by boundaries & rules defined by owner

Limited by boundaries & rules defined by usergroups

Access to nonrival resources

Made scarce (to ensure profitability)

Open access (to ensure social equity)

Use rights

Granted by owner

Co-decided by user groups

Dominant strategy

Out-compete

Out-cooperate

Results

For the resources

Erosion Enclosure

Conservation Reproduction & Multiplication

For the people

Exlusion & Participation

Inclusion & Emancipation

Source: http://p2pfoundation.net/Logic_of_the_Market_versus_the_Logic_of_the_Commons

This transition is far from seamless and it can´t be taken at face value.  For the moment, it ain´t easy for an individual to make a living relying exclusively on the Commons .  But things may change. Perhaps the time has come for Entrepreneurial Education to stop “serving the cause and perpetuating ideas of an old productive system, a value logic (the Market) and institutions (the Firm) suited to an age that is gone” (Bauwens, 2014) (Editor’s note : here “value logic” is to be interpreted as “monetary value logic”, value can take many form, it can be innovation, social, artistic, see our webinar on the importance of value creation in education).

Appeals for the need to increase the inventiveness and (entrepreneurial) consciousness of our citizens have become common currency in official discourse. Indeed a forward-thinking idea but much to my surprise USSR General Secretary Chernenko held similar views in the early 80ies. Back then  Chernenko “called on to soviets (local councils) to increase the inventiveness and consciousness of the masses while at the same time arguing, paradoxically,  for the need to contain inventiveness and consciousness within the confines of the present order” (Yurchak, 2013). I think this excerpt is a pretty good illustration of our current situation.  Mass creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are celebrated as long as they are contained within the confines of the present order. Thus the conventions of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education remain unchallenged probably because, beyond empty celebrations and other performing acts, we have to admit the paradox of a really disruptive citizen-led entrepreneurial society  may have some uncomfortable political and economic implications attached.

For entrepreneurial education to be genuinely entrepreneurial it needs to emancipate itself from the grip and influence of the dominant economic and educational paradigms.  Both the previous sentence and the title of this article is just me paraphrasing George S. Counts intervention before the Progressive Education Association in Baltimore(USA) in 1932 where he attacked a highly Middle-Class, Learner-Centered ideology impervious to society’s problems and injustices that are not easily crowd-funded. Now I beg your pardon for my Social Reconstructionist vein but specifications do matter when we craft a vision of a better society, don´t you think? What are we aiming at? A Gig Economy or a Commons Economy? Individualization or Mutualization? Crowdfunding or Public Interest?  Fierce competition or staggering cooperation?  And I’m perfectly aware that blunt dichotomies fail to faithfully capture what’s going on in the real world but they’re kind of helpful to set the tone and anchor the debate.   What’s the role of education, curriculum makers, schools ,educators and students in all this? See lemons and make lemonade?  

That’s not quite the route taken by the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES), a very good example of a student-led movement putting into question the shortcomings of Economics Education. PCES efforts are driven by the need to break the shackles of a dominant perspective that’s exclusively reliant on a single paradigm while stifling criticism, innovation and creativity.  I reiterate this is a good description of the current ills of our beloved entrepreneurial education. Tapping into this train of thought, I wonder what would a Post-Crash Entrepreneurial Education Society look like? Learning about, for and through entrepreneurship should not the only options available. Instead of beating around the bush, why don´t we uproot it and start learning beyond entrepreneurship.

Additional Reading

Bauwens, M. & Kostakis, V. (2014) From the communism of capital to the Capital of the Commons: Towards an Open-Cooperativism. TripleC  – Communication, Capitalism & Critique: Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society  12(1): 356-361

Counts, G.S. (1932) Dare the school build a new social order? New York: John Day Company

Counts, G.S. (1932) "Dare progressive education be progressive?" Progressive Education 4(9).

Greenwald, R. (2012) “Contingent, Transient and at Risk: Modern Workers in a Gig Economy”. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greenwald/contingent-transient-and-_b_1554619.html

Kessler, S. (2014) “Pixel and Dimed: On not getting by in the Gig Economy”. Fast Company. http://www.fastcompany.com/3027355/pixel-and-dimed-on-not-getting-by-in-the-gig-economy

NESTA (2014) “What will the UK collaborative economy look like in 2025?” http://www.nesta.org.uk/news/collaborative-economy-2025

The Post-Crash Economics Society (2014) “Economics, Education and Unlearning:  Economics Education at the University of Manchester” http://www.post-crasheconomics.com/economics-education-and-unlearning/

Yurchak, A. (2013). Everything was forever, until it was no more: The last Soviet generation. Princeton University Press.