Review of Beyond Learning by Doing (Roberts, 2012); chapters six and seven

Policy Making and Practical Context

Innovative and individualized teaching that targets meaningful action is a concept Roberts suggests is growing in 21st century education. The most influential voice of education, arguably, is Ken Robinson who has recently in 2015 written a book based on these premises.
Beyond learning by doing is a transformative process of questioning and critiquing a founding experience. Roberts suggests that students deepen their experience beyond simply participating as an arbitrary or ‘quirky’ exercise; making it more rigorous.
The ‘token’ pragmatics of a typical experience such as Roberts’ example of the touristic gaze down Grand Canyon he speaks of as normative; referring to more a result than theoretical perspective. The river that cuts through this canyon serves as a metaphorical supply in education through demand for which he calls the market economy. He uses rivers as metaphor toward the ongoing rationalization and modernization of our notion of experience in education. Experience and market mark ways in which the rising economies and variations of rationalism have normalized a particular notion of experience. Looking at “the river”, landscapes are environmentally congenial for the species. Instead of existing within the river, normative currents take place about the landscape. But our environment continues to be hardscaped through urbanization; influencing the river from the surrounding landscape. Consequently, the river currents become homogenous and may lose character, diversity and clarity. Still a river, no doubt, but changed and impoverished.

Altering our thoughts on education experience in today’s society favors a more practical or instrumental rationality which Weber has argued. We take this as a way to gain useful skills and increase potential. Weber argues this resulting phenomenon stems from the growth of modernity, rising market economies and bureaucratic processes.
Deeper meaning of literal water currents are a metaphor of social, economic and environmental learning of experience converging into wholeness. There is a correlation between democracy, education and experience. It has capacity to connect different approaches and build a new vision for education that takes seriously the interactive role of student, teacher and society in the democratic process. The river of experience is only alive in its conflicts, tensions and multiplicity. The impeded stream reminds us there is much to do, more to fight for.

In our own professional practices we have considered what value a decontextualized, prescribed and shallow learning agenda some schools and initiatives take. Experiential education is incomplete in two ways: its ‘roots’ and ‘fruits’. By this Roberts means that maybe we base our knowledge on shallow grounds. From where do we take our knowledge? Do we integrate all points of view? We need to expand the field’s roots; building connections. We can compare this to “rope-courses” from the 1960’s. The concern being an illusion of freedom, while it is not. The neo-experience makes individuals rational consumers with false choices of freedom, when in fact, they are laid out for them. There is no reflection involved, no social engagement, which Dewey (1958) considers to be essential in real experience. This colonization of experience in education shows larger shifts within educational progressivism. If experiential education practitioners are to address real concerns of inequality, marginalization and hegemony, we must learn a new civic hood; one that is based on the ideals of deliberation, community, and responsibility.

Teachers need to be aware of their inclusive planning that fosters rigor in transformative experiences. Dewey disagreed to Lippmann’s conclusion that experts should manage democracy. Dewey believed that people who had an understanding would have to contribute to involvement. In these chapters, writings show that experience goes beyond the knowledge learnt into social relations. These address daily life; contextually part of any education experience not seen as an obstacle but an essential element. Chapter six points to differentiation of behavior versus meaningful action, perhaps one sub conscious and one conscious, respectively. Interpersonal workshops addressed in these chapters showcase how to conceptualize student experience strengthening learning communities. In school, teachers need to organize these workshops, though a challenge of authentic experience dependent on the teachers’ active role through a democratic experiential education.

Weber steers social interaction towards a meaningful action as opposed to behavior. He was more interested in social interaction and how various players adjusted to conditions than he was in developing some functionalist theory. He came up with four different types of meaningful social action: traditional, affectual, value and practical. According to Benton, education makes better citizens who are more sensitive with the ability to accept reality, truth and beauty which helps them understand worldly pleasures. To Habermas, the systematic world becomes problematic when it expands on the education, family life and media. Weber formed a homogenous and abstract rationalization which critical theorists would argue: the process of rationalization is not inherent, rather explained by certain ideologies. Habermas talked about system (economy and administration) and the live-world (education, family and media). He says that these two elements had become homogenous through colonization. This critical theory suggests that culture, politics and ideologies play a part in rationalizing education. Habermas problematizes the encroachment of the system world on the lifeworld that leads to a form of colonization and means-ends thinking.

Engel and Ritzer show how instrumental reason is inhabiting public spaces in education. Four dimensions of “McDonalization” inspire the globe to be more homogenous. These are:

1) Efficiency  produce tons of food in a short time,
2) Calculability  quantitative over quality,
3) Predictability  same products worldwide,
4) Control  no human mistakes because the food is made by machines.

This article provides thought about neo-experiential education which is the shift from environmental education experiences to service learning action and more traditional classroom programs. Beyond learning by doing addresses understanding such school and experiential activities. By example, the affordances of a ski jump has one using skis and flying through the air. Going beyond this embodiment could entail understanding planning competitive events and the politics of rules and participation. In another example; rock climbing, the names of climbs are based on the choice of the first climber and they are often recreational. The current association of climbs are not mis-educative rather could be educating toward currents of future education where names are termed towards curriculum, learning and provoke thinking. We must also ask ourselves what is the purpose of experiential education. Does current curriculum allow for students to have a voice? We talk about autonomy and freedom but do these notions translate into our practice? The hopeful and imagined current sees experiential education as something not just fragile, rather as something that is incomplete and this we need to work on.

As a planner of experiential programs for participants, Dewey suggests that it is the teacher who is central to student experience. We think it is best to consider in what way the teacher conceptualizes experience. Chapter seven is about how fragile a democracy can be. It is about how to find the meaning and relevancy for a ‘real world’ education. Social participation plays a main role in democratic societies. Consequently, there is an argument on this topic about the practice of contemporary democracy. Moreover, this article explores the ways of experimental learning through democratic education where experience is enhanced by combining democracy and education. Therefore democracy holds a great potential to gain alternative approaches to learning. Finally, Roberts highlights that though experiential education does not always provide happy endings, we should celebrate not having all the answers. Sometimes we fail. The importance is how experiential education can help us in our progress towards a more democratic education field, where students, teachers and community interact.