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 reared in the Kibbutz.
This phenomenon, however, is of the greatest interest. And here, at the meeting, clashing head on, were two views of what is the best way to raise children. By the end of the book, however, this reader was left with the feeling that while initially the visitors from abroad wanted on the whole to prove to the Kibbutz that its method of child-rearing is harmful to the child, they were reluctantly forced to conclude that things are not quite so bad as they expected. So far so good. It would have been instructive if the visitors had then truly questioned the theories that had led them to such an erroneous, a priori conviction, and then come up either with reasons for maintaining these theories, or at least with suggestions for revising them. The latter would have led to far-reaching consequences for our views of the parent-child relation, particularly the relationship between mother and child.
Instead, such an exchange of views was blocked—and not just by basic differences. Much more often it was the inability of the participants from abroad to accept the Kibbutz as a way of life as natural as their own. Only for fleeting moments did a few participants from abroad suggest that our own ways of rearing children are just as much open to question as those of the Kibbutz.
Though I am in favor of seeing children raised by their parents, the Kibbutz example has apparently shown that our anxieties about the fate of the infant raised away from his mother are not justified. On the contrary, Kibbutz children seem to fare considerably better than do many children raised in underprivileged homes, and better than quite a few children raised at home by middle-class parents. Even more significant: The Kibbutz example has shown that it is possible in a single generation to create a healthy personality that is entirely different from that of the parents.
SO THE FIRST QUESTION IS: How do these children manage so well, though in infancy and childhood they spend most of the day and all night away from their parents? In the nursery and youth houses, the child’s own age group takes the place of what we would call his family of origin, since it along remains stable over the years. The adults who rear him—his nurses, child care workers, and teachers—are often replaced. The performance of these children in later adult life casts further doubt on our anxieties, because they are described as hard-working, responsible citizens, devoted to their communities and nation. As adolescents and adults they are free of the asocial behavior that worries us most—delinquency, criminality, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, drug addiction, etc. Furthermore, as one of the American participants observed, “During our tour we were shown the high school and the excellent facilities it possessed, and we were frequently assured that the children, although oriented toward farming, were not at all averse to studying. We were told of some exceptional children who had made some interesting field studies in the natural sciences. There was some reason for our concern, for scholastic pursuits are not usually encouraged in pioneer settlements, where the plough and the sword are more in demand than the pen.”*
The question of the price of this achievement was indeed discussed at the Institute. But since the balance of gains and shortcomings was never considered, we cannot evaluate from the evidence of the book the personality so formed; we are not told what education in the Kibbutz achieves for the individual, and what it fails to achieve.
Any educational system can be understood and evaluated only within the context of its culture. If one cannot accept the goals of that culture, at least as a premise, then one cannot free oneself of the bias of one’s own culture. Let me give an example of how this bias prevented the meeting from clarifying essential matters about the educational system of the Kibbutz. One prominent psychoanalyst from abroad suggested a study of personality development in the Kibbutz through a comparison of one set of children who were bowel-trained mainly by their parents, and another set who were trained mostly by “metapelets”—that is, by Kibbutz child-care workers. But if a Kibbutz were to relegate this very important training to parents for some of its children, and to the metapeles for others, it would cease to be a Kibbutz—that is, a well-integrated group—and become a research station in which experiments with children are carried on. This would mean that these children would not only have an experience of radically different toilet-training, but an experience that in itself contradicted all Kibbutz values in a most significant respect. The final results would then tell us little about the consequences of Kibbutz methods of teaching cleanliness, though it might enlighten us about the consequences of implanting in very small children a deep inner conflict about the values of the Kibbutz.
What is shocking about such a suggestion is that the same person would not suggest to a group of psychoanalysts that they let their children be toilet trained by professional educators, rather than their parents, since that would yield interesting results—as indeed it would. But then, one would wonder about the motives of parents who would be willing to relinquish their roles as parents for the sake of an investigation. One might even conclude that such an experiment was invalid because the parents who consent to it are so deviant that the findings no longer apply to parents and child-rearing in our culture.
For its own members, the Kibbutz is a way of life, not an interesting experiment. Their children, I am tempted to say, are their jewels, their most valued possessions. But in saying so I would only compound the errors I speak of, since jewels and private possessions are anathema to the Kibbutz.
Ridiculous as the experiment I have described may seem, this is exactly what several scientists from abroad suggested to the Kibbutz, in all seriousness; indeed they were quite critical when the Kibbutz did not jump at the chance to carry it out. Still it is relatively easy to understand why a visitor might take this attitude if he is shaken by what he sees: He wants to make very sure that the evidence really runs counter to his theories before he will change or discard them. But it is a more serious matter when the visitor goes beyond suggesting limited experiments, and requests radically changed procedures because they match his convictions more closely. This latter position was reflected in so many recommendations that it is difficult to select a typical example. However, the recommendations of a child psychiatrist I have come to respect most highly, both for his work and as a person, may serve to make the point. This child psychiatrist said:
Insufficient effort has been devoted to encouraging individualization in the children’s room and the children’s corner…every bed looked like every other bed, there were no toys, and apparently no personal possessions in the corner. It seems to me that as an early anlage of the individualization…every child should be encouraged to have some personal possession or possessions in his corner; that each child’s bed should look different from the other bed in his room just so he will know that it’s his.
IN ORDER TO FEEL the impact of this recommendation, one must bear in mind that the Kibbutz has made heroic efforts to create a society of equals, a society without private property, in which the group will in all ways take precedence over the individual. It is tantamount to telling the Kibbutz that, as of now, it should stop being a Kibbutz. (Kibbutz is the Hebrew word for group, and means nothing else.) The absence of private possessions, of any feeling that things are his, is just what teaches the child from his earliest years that he lives in a society without private property. In effect the visitor was suggesting that the Kibbutz as such should cease to exist.
Following this suggestion, a prominent member of the New York City Department of Welfare joined in (as did many other foreign participants) by saying, “Children should not only have their individual toys; they should also have facilities for safeguarding these as their own, as something one does not have to share with anybody else.” That is, she requested the Kibbutz, whose basic philosophy is that of sharing, and of shunning exclusive possessions, to throw all this overboard and adopt child-rearing methods that are designed to instill the longing for private possessions.
Now there were some foreign members of the group who were much more sensitive to the essential nature of the Kibbutz—the Editor of the Institute Report, for one, Fritz Redl for another, and a few others. But their voices are drowned out by the overwhelming mood favoring American ways. Clearly the visitors took lightly the inner confidence they encountered in their visits to the Kibbutz; or that Kibbutz society is one in which there is no unemployment, where the sick and the old are well cared for, where drop-outs, drug addiction, and child abuse are entirely absent. How else can we understand their repeated recommendations, which described how the Kibbutz could become more like their own individuated society in which all these miseries are rampant? One group was saying, “This is the way of life that meets our goals and aspirations,” while the other was saying, “You must change it because we need different data to test our theories, or quiet our doubts”; no compromise was possible. And this is exactly what sealed the fate of the meetings.
In the second half of the book, which purports to cover the last days of the meeting, all attempts to find common ground are given up and each group simply reports on the work of its own members. Some of these reports are very interesting: Redl’s paper on “Pathogenic factors in the modern child’s life,” for example, or Bernard’s paper on “Community psychiatry in the US.” Or the Israeli contributions: Golan and Lavi’s paper on “Kibbutz and communal education,” or Zvikelsky’s on “The metapelet [i.e., child-care worker] and the daily routine in the infant age group.” There are other papers of specialized interest which are valuable but they add little to our understanding of Kibbutz rearing.
WHAT I HAVE SAID HERE should not give the impression that Kibbutz education is without its hardships for the individual or without its own inner contradictions. These the visitors were quite ready to recognize, as indeed were the participants from the Kibbutz. All too often, however, the visitors’ bias led them to stress some of the defects of Kibbutz education even where the same defect is even more glaring in our own culture. For example, Dr. Anthony remarks on the “double-bind” or conflict from which a Kibbutz child suffers if his parents lack real emotional acceptance of communal rearing. He mentions as an illustration the “covert difficulties in which a mother, on parting with her toddler at the end of the evening visit [for some two hours daily] would offer him a series of ‘double-bind’ communications, directing him to return to the children’s house and yet holding him tightly by the hand; imploring him not to cry when he left her, and yet weeping a little herself.” True, and certainly damaging to the child. But does it really tell us anything about Kibbutz methods of child-rearing? Did not the concept of “double-bind” originate with Bateson and Ruesch and was it not developed to describe what is no less common and widespread in our nuclear families? More important in this context: When the double-bind does exist in the Kibbutz, the child is exposed to it for only two hours a day and not for twenty-four hours, as with us.
Here, as throughout this report, Kibbutz reality is found wanting by comparing it with an ideal, a setting and method of rearing that, as far as I know, exist only in the minds of the visitors from abroad. It exists nowhere in reality as yet, it has not even been put to a test. If it were put into practice it might turn out to have undesirable consequences that cannot be foreseen. This is hardly even mentioned, and if so only in passing. Of the American participants, Dr. Redl was the most striking exception to the rule. “It is quite possible,” he said, “that while sexual concerns would be minimized [in the Kibbutz], issues having to do with the overall value system of the Kibbutz society might be more heavily laden with anxiety and guilt or conflict [than with us].” What he here suggests is that while in our society it is hardest of all to achieve sexual realization, in Kibbutz society it may be hardest to be the “right” Kibbutz member. Here I might quote Dr. Biber of the Bank Street College of Education, who reflects on what may well be the most important factor in Kibbutz education, namely, that
Kibbutz life presents a rare human circumstance: each individual moves, ethically, within the society that implements his ideals of how man should live with man. This I want to say plainly arouses in me a feeling of envy.
This statement may indicate that the crucial question of “what kind of a person should I become?” has entirely different answers in different societies. And the answer to this question which a society gives (or demands, or imposes) is crucial to the formation of personality in this society. Unfortunately, such insights into significant differences between societies—and what we can thereby learn about the different personalities they create—remained stillborn at this conference. At any rate, such remarks as those I have quoted by Dr. Redl were passed over by other conference participants, as far as one can see from the printed report.
The difference in outcome between Kibbutz child-rearing and our own educational system could not show up more clearly than in the following comment by the director of the Kibbutzim Child Guidance Clinic. She reports, “I remember my daughter asking me, when I criticized her, ‘Do you really want me to do better than the other children?’ She was genuinely surprised to hear that I thought she could do so.” This comment also emphasizes the difference created in a single generation between this mother and her Kibbutz-born-and-reared daughter. It seems that the decision to join a Kibbutz and to strip oneself of all private property is not in itself enough to do away with the inner competitive spirit if, like this mother, one was reared in a Western type “nuclear family.” But obviously Kibbutz education can achieve exactly that in the space of one generation. Despite this, Dr. Anthony arrived at the conclusion that though, psychologically, this mother and her daughter stand for “two quite distinct philosophies of childrearing, yet the end result was apparently the same, at least as far as gross clinical assessment was concerned.” Is there no substantial difference between our children in the west, who cannot live except by competing with their fellow citizens, and the Kibbutz child to whom competition is unthinkable?
HOWEVER, if one does not look for conclusions in this book but reads it for its isolated observations, then some interesting facts about Kibbutz child-rearing emerge. One of the five days of the meeting was spent in visits to various Kibbutzim. Most of the American members seemed impressed by what they saw, particularly when it so obviously contradicted their prior conviction that children suffer when they are not brought up by parents but by child-care workers in a group. For example, Mr. Alt, of the Jewish Board of Guardians in New York, found that
What we saw, particularly with regard to the children’s senses of assurance, of security, was absolutely overwhelming…The children’s appearance was quite remarkable—and this held true for children of all ages, starting with those we saw in the baby home and the kindergarten, and including those we saw in the school, and later in the swimming pool. I was struck by the animation, their evident good health and intelligence, and their unusual poise.
Even so, a reading of the book permits no certainty about even this basic issue, nor even about what the visitors saw. For example, Dr. Anthony, a child psychoanalyst was worried because
Of the various age groups that we saw on our visit, the one which seemed to be the least satisfactory from the point of view of emotional support and stimulation was the toddlers. The child in this group seemed to be more at loose ends, less settled, more expectant and less lively, not quite ready for group experience, and therefore unable to avail himself of group support.
By contrast, one social worker observed a group of children not yet two years old, waiting for their parents. They became restless, which stimulated speech as well as physical activity.
They got up, held onto the gate which enclosed their play area and started to shake it. Their metapelet was sitting there rather passively it seemed. But as the children’s tension seemed to increase, they took each others hands and started to dance and sing. Now this is something very unusual for children of that age, I think, especially the fact that they turn towards each other rather than to the metapelet at this moment of tension.
This observation ought to be viewed in juxtaposition with Dr. Anthony’s concern about the toddler’s inability to “avail himself of group support.” It suggests that when frustrated or tense, even the toddler in the Kibbutz will deal with his difficulty by receiving help from his peer group. From an early age he is more directed towards socialization than he is towards internalization.
And again: while Dr. Anthony felt that the toddlers were underdeveloped, Mr. Goldston, from the National Institute of Mental Health of Bethesda felt, like Mr. Alt, that “the motor development of the young infants appear to some of us to be above normal.” So all depends on what aspect of development one considers important. Or which expert the reader is to believe.
SOMETIMES KIBBUTZ members could not refrain from pointing out contradictions in the views of the observers. After his most recent visit to Israel, Dr. Bowlby, who was generally critical of Kibbutz education, could not help but be impressed by the devotion to work, the sense of duty and responsibility of Kibbutz youngsters, and the absence of delinquency and other signs of anomie in them. They make, for example, outstanding soldiers during their army service. “The admirable qualities of many of the Kibbutz children of age eighteen are products of the excellent facilities the Kibbutz provides for children, aged from, say, eleven years onwards.” (When Dr. Bowlby referred to excellent facilities he had in mind the superior quality of the teachers, the teachers’ devotion to the task of education, the small classes, and the excellent equipment of the Kibbutz schools.) But, he went on, “There is no reason to attribute them to peculiarities of care in the earlier years.” In this way, as one Israeli educator observed, Dr. Bowlby still tries to stick to his conviction that since the earliest experiences are all-important an infant will suffer from maternal deprivation if he is raised by anybody but his mother. But the Kibbutz educator continues: “This is an astonishing statement indeed. If the earliest years and the form of care given to infants are very important, as Bowlby himself asserts, how can he assume that education of the adolescent is alone powerful enough to endow young people so generously and to compensate so richly for the supposed peculiarities of child care during the early years?”
And yet these meetings were not without effect on some of its participants. For example, Dr. Neubauer, who convoked the conference, states: “In spite of the fact that the literature had led many of us to expect that we would discover deprivation in the young child of the Kibbutz, we did not find evidence to confirm these anticipations. On the contrary, we were quite impressed by…this unique example of how family life can not only be maintained unimpaired, but can even be integrated—to its own advantage—into a system of collective child care. The geographic distance between parental quarters and children’s homes is a wholly inadequate measure of the quality of the emotional relationship between parent and child.” Thus while he reasserts that there are no radical differences between Kibbutz rearing and ours (which is one way to resolve the contradictions), he is nevertheless shaken. He continues: “This form of communal child care is, in itself, of extraordinary significance; it can be understood only within the totality of Kibbutz life.” Now you see it, now you don’t. At one moment it is all the same, in the next it can be understood only with reference to the Kibbutz generally.
Dr. Eisenberg went further than most of his colleagues: “When one takes the system and theory of psychopathology, built up on the basis of studies on patients raised in traditional Western families, and then attempts to apply this as a standard to the special situation of the Kibbutz, it is quite possible that some of the findings of similarity are in fact artifacts…Unfortunately, the psychopathologist tends to find what he looks for—which is a methodological problem in psychiatry and psychological investigation.” Finally, an issue is raised which, had it been considered from the start, might have led to the question: Do the new facts that emerge as we observe Kibbutz education really fit into and corroborate our theoretical models—in this case, of mothering, the nuclear family, child-rearing, the importance of private possessions, etc.—or are these theories invalidated by the facts, or in need of far-reaching revision?
AT THE END OF THE CONFERENCE, and unwillingly, Dr. Neubauer and a few others of the visitors’ group finally approached the crucial problem, though they still avoided stating it: How can one understand such a method of child-rearing within the totality of Kibbutz life, without measuring it by the yardstick of an entirely different culture?
This understanding is what we need, not only to understand how a society has been created that is free of the anomie and the social disorganization that plagues ours, and at what price; but much more important, to deal with questions which were not even raised at this meeting: How have our theories about child-rearing brought us to such erroneous conclusions? And if it is possible to find out, what then is wrong with our theories?
Such a direction of inquiry might have led to important revisions of our method of child-rearing. All methods of child-rearing are the result of certain basic convictions about human nature and development. The urgent question is whether these convictions about the universal validity of our views may need to be changed.
October 6, 1966
This is a difficult problem. The Kibbutz education is superior to the education in the cities as far as a broad basis is concerned since it provides free education for all children up to the age of eighteen, while in the cities free education stops at fourteen. On the other hand, it is true that the Kibbutz does not encourage the matriculation exam nor prepare for it, which is required for entering the Universities, whereas the city high schools do so for those selected children who will attend them. The reason is that the Kibbutz wishes its youth to remain in the agricultural settlements and not to be drawn away into the intellectual professions, since an essential part of Kibbutz philosophy is to do away with the intellectual Jew and anchor him also in physical labor and on the land. While high intellectual and educational achievement is rare, on the other hand the average educational level seems higher than in the cities. Thus the educational system prepares them admirably for the life they expect to live. But we have to realize that this is a different life than we might select for our own children. ↩