Academic journal article Education Next

A Kibbutz Education: The Collective Farm Was a Powerful Educational Tool

Academic journal article Education Next

A Kibbutz Education: The Collective Farm Was a Powerful Educational Tool

Article excerpt

Working the earth purifies the soul" was one of the many mottos at Ben Shemen, the boarding school I attended as a teenager living in what was then British Palestine. The educational experience at Ben Shemen was grounded in the soil; students had to spend two hours each day working on the collective farm.

Ben Shemen's ingenious design called for each child to have close relations with four adults: a homeroom teacher who served as the main educator; a "house mother" who oversaw the dormitories; a youth leader with whom students hung out after school hours; and the farm foreman under whom the children worked each day.

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The four adults met regularly to coordinate their guidance of the youngsters toward what Ben Shemen considered the needed direction. Thus, if a child disobeyed one of the foremen, his house mother would learn of it and would draw on the affection the child had for her in helping him to accept the foreman's authority.

The school's unique structure meant that children were members of four different peer groups: their classmates of the same age; their dormmates of various ages (which in my case included an older boy by the name of Shimon Peres); the coeducational members of their youth group; and their fellow workers on the farm. The elder boys were expected to foster communal mores among their juniors.

The whole idea of Zionism was summarized for us as an inverted pyramid: in Europe, Jews were mostly middle-class intellectuals, merchants, and financiers, resting on a narrow base of relatively few Jewish blue-collar workers and even fewer farmers. We Israelis were to set the pyramid upright, by forming a strong base of farmers and workers. They relied on others to defend them; we would take our fate into our own armed hands. …

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