Children in Collectives
Childrearing Aims and Practices in the Kibbutz
What happens to the infant when he is separated from his mother a few days after birth and is raised—not at home, by his parents—but entirely by educators, and in peer groups?
This is the question at the center of the book under review, which is the report of a five-day Institute held in Israel in 1963. Unfortunately the question remains more a matter of inference than of open exploration. For Americans, however, the question is vital: Among the most pressing educational problems in the US today are those of the culturally deprived child and of juvenile delinquency. Since the Israeli Kibbutz seems to have solved these problems, there is good reason to ask if their educational methods can be applied in America. The more so because the feeling is widespread among us that if we are to help the culturally deprived child he had best be reared in an environment different from the home that often damages his ability to live in the world he must enter later on.
But can children be reared successfully away from their mothers? Opinion in the West, led by Bowlby and Spitz, seems to be that this is disastrous for the infant and creates severe pathology later in life. In the words of the Children’s Bureau: “Young children need individual attention from their parents, and do not fare well in groups.” One purpose of the Institute, therefore, was to give a select group of visitors from abroad the chance to inform themselves, and the Kibbutz a chance to allay doubts, about such a method of education.
There were more than fifty participants in the Institute, about half of whom were from the Kibbutz. With the exception of two participants from England and one from Holland, nearly all foreigners at the Institute were from the US. In addition to the editor, Peter Neubauer, they included such well known child psychoanalysts and psychiatrists as James Anthony, Viola Bernard, Leon Eisenberg, Marianne Kris, and Fritz Redl. The other Americans were psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and educators, many of them internationally known as specialists in the children’s field.
OSTENSIBLY these two groups met in order to profit from an exchange of ideas. But as one might expect, the proceedings show that each group tried not only to learn from the other but also to keep its preconceived notions from being shaken. These are opposite motives and not easily compatible, since the desire to conserve and persuade is often stronger than the impulse to learn and to change.
The meeting resulted in another of the many non-books that now flood the professional field. The conference itself may have been of great interest and value to the participants themselves, but the proceedings unfortunately do not make a very readable or informative book. In spite of skillful editing by Dr. Neubauer, a discussion in which some fifty people participate does not necessarily produce a theme, or even a description of a phenomenon: the unusual way in which children are…
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