A mini-essay that I wrote for my Radical and Revolutionary forms of Education class.
In Youth Takes the Lead: The Inception of Jewish Youth Movements in Europe, Zvi Lamm describes the educational underpinnings that led to the Kibbutz Movement’s pedagogical approach. Early in the twentieth century a new perspective on what it meant to be youth began to develop. This perspective tore away the previous paradigm which held that youth were in a “tiresome stage of transition.” (Lamm, 15) Instead, young people began to understand this period as a life stage that was equal to, if not more important than, adulthood.
This discovery is important because it is the basis on which the ideas of experiential and participatory educational models were founded in this example. It made no sense to read about content when it could be experienced. They believed that, in building an emancipated sense of Jewish identity, experiential lessons were a better tool than reading about them. In the case of the participatory framework, it became clear that if youth-hood was not an inferior life phase, than youth were not worth less than their adult counterparts. This idea fit well into the egalitarian and Socialist ideology which had developed in the Jewish youth movements in question. This also led to the idea of ‘youth leading youth,’ which evolved into two major structures. The first was the centrality of the group in the educational framework. The group worked, learned and made decisions together. They were built on egalitarian principles and shared authority. As well, the group leader (most commonly an older young person) became a facilitator, guru and instructor (Lamm, 200). These leaders led as role-models, never forgetting that they could not lead towards a path that they did not take themselves. This meant that each group member and the group leader were equally accountable to each other to live the lives that they prescribed to each other. Though teachers became more common as the Kibbutz movement developed, the leader’s role is still central to the educational process of Kibbutz learners.
One of shortcomings of the above is that group pressure became the authority rather than the leader. It seems that authority was inescapable for them. Rather than coming from above it came from the group itself (Lamm, 250). It was a kind of institutional peer-pressure. This culture of inward decision-making led to a sense of insularity within the Kibbutzim. Because all of their decisions were made within the group, the group evolved into the only body that mattered. This created a division between the Kibbutz and the rest of society which eventually led to the Kibbutz no longer acting as a core element in Israeli society. Still, in the context of the educational program it was empowering in a way that youth seldom experience in other educational contexts.
Early in the evolution of the organizing principles of the youth movements’, education was perceived to be both the means and the end to achieve the goal of Jewish emancipation from alienation in Europe. This shifted significantly as Socialist-Zionist ideology began to solidify as the core ideology of the youth movements in the late 1910’s. At that point education became the central way in which the movements could achieve the goal of establishing Socialist villages in Palestine. The aim of education was not only to live full lives as empowered youth, but to begin to train for the “revival of the Jewish people.” (Lamm, 85, 86) It required a unique balancing of present and future mindedness.
Within the context of the group the focus was on the transformation of the Jewish individual, which “could only occur through education.” (Lamm, 85) Two seemingly contradictory ideologies existed at the core of the youth movements’ pedagogy. These goals can be termed as “individualization-socialization.” (Lamm, 237) These were rooted in the dual goals of emancipating the Jewish individual and the collective Zionist goal of building a Jewish state. It is noted that John Dewey had separately and simultaneously proposed a similar synthesis. These two interlinked goals were rooted in the dual influences of “the movement for youth and the idea of a youth movement.” (Lamm, 22)
The youth movement was focused on collectively envisioning and acting towards building a better society. The movement for youth aimed at educating youth to become “positive, effective and disciplined citizens.” (Lamm, 22) In the context of the youth movements that built the Kibbutzim the former held radical visions for a Socialist society through movement building, while the latter instructed individuals to be active leaders in the projects of the movement. The health, strength of character and resourcefulness that were emphasized in the scouting movement, which was established by Robert Baden-Powell, were naturally attractive to Jewish youth who had developed a keen sense that they had been collectively and individually alienated from the natural world (Lamm, 108-109). The German Wandervogel, as it was known, had an analysis that understood youth to be under the “humiliating guardianship” of society (Lamm, 138). The Jewish youth movements took both of these models and synthesized them towards building a movement that was focused on youth as individual and collective leaders in the building of a Socialist Jewish state through the building of Kibbutzim.
The synthesized trends that were explored in the previous paragraph are rooted in the German youth movement model and the English scouting model of the early twentieth century. Free youth culture and scouting as a means of independence were at the core of the youth movements. The interest in the Jewish relationship with the land and nature, which was central in exposing them to these two ideals, is explored below.
Lamm, Zvi. Youth Takes the Lead: The Inception of Jewish Youth Movement in Europe. Trans. Sionah Kronfeld-Honig. Rochelle Mass, ed. Tel-Aviv: Yad Ya’ari-Givat Haviva, 2004.