Academic journal article Shofar

Education, Socialization, and Development of National Identity: The American Common School and Israel Defense Forces in Transnational Perspective

Academic journal article Shofar

Education, Socialization, and Development of National Identity: The American Common School and Israel Defense Forces in Transnational Perspective

Article excerpt

The experiences of the nineteenth-century American common school and the twentieth century Israel Defense Forces as educational agencies provide a rich ground for the sort of comparative analysis undertaken by the burgeoning field of transnational history. While American historians have pointed out that a major purpose of common schooling in America was the socialization of immigrants into American life and culture, and Israelis have commented in similar fashion about education undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces, little attempt has been made to compare and contrast the experiences..

Situated within the framework of contemporary understandings of modern nation-state formation, this essay explores historical similarities and differences in the manner in which the socialization of youth and immigrants into each society was carried out by these educational agencies. Additionally, it examines ways in which each contributed to the formation of a national identity in the early years of their respective state's development.

Introduction(1)

Recent years have witnessed the burgeoning of transnational history, the comparative study of common historical topics across regions, cultures, and societies.(2) The notion is that comparison and contrast help to illuminate the experiences of those entities being compared, and to provide fresh perspectives on both. So important has this approach become that a major American historical journal has recently devoted an entire issue to the topic, including an article comparing land use in Israel and the United States.(3)

American educational historians have pointed out that one of the major functions of common schooling was the socialization of immigrants into American life and culture.(4) Israeli authors have commented in similar fashion about the education undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces.(5) However, little or no attempt has been made thus far to compare and contrast the two experiences in terms of dynamics and outcomes.

This essay will utilize the approach of transnational history to compare and contrast the purpose and development of the American common school in the nineteenth century with similar questions regarding the Israel Defense Forces in mid-twentieth century. The goal is a better understanding of both experiences as a result of the differential treatment.

The historical context within which such analysis takes place is a period of significant social shift in the ways in which nations organize themselves. Both the American common school and the Israel Defense Forces are quintessential products of the modern nation-state. At the same time, however, while both symbolize the state and help to invent it, they do so in somewhat different ways.

School, Army, and Nation

As Benedict Anderson and others rightly have insisted, the modern nation is fundamentally an imagined community. Its members, even though they will never know the majority of their fellow citizens, achieve identity through the image of community that exists in the mind of each.(6) In the creation of this new community, certain institutions take on an added importance.

Among the most significant of these is the school. In the words of John Meyer, "Since the early nineteenth century, scientific and ideological doctrines holding that mass education is a crucial element of the modern nation-state...have been central to world society."(7) In the classroom, individuals of strikingly different ethnic, religious, and political persuasions were socialized to a new "territorially specific imagined reality" in order to forge a unity of identity and purpose.(8) For immigrant nations like the United States, such schools became critically important elements in the process of nation building.

The military, on the other hand, mostly serve a somewhat different purpose. On the one hand, the modern army appears to be greater than the sum of its parts, an "artificial machine" controlled by structures beyond the individual. …

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