Re: DSM: kibbutzim schools and SVM

From: Ardeshir Mehta, N.D. (
Date: Wed Jun 13 2001 - 19:23:23 EDT

Hi David:

You wrote:

> Ardeshir,
> I think you should visit Israel again.

I'd love to -- but there are financial and other constraints! :-(

> > Perhaps most people on the
> > list aren't really interested in this subject.
> That's a cognitive distortion -- it's called "overgeneralization".
> You feel the way you think (see: Feeling Good -
> The New Mood Therapy by David Burns).

Oh no: I personally AM interested. But it would not be too
good to inflict my own interest on others, would it?

> I'd rather say people either don't feel the SUBJECT
> is relevant to their lives -- that I believe is a mistake --
> or they aren't well versed on it . . . they might also not
> be in the mood to comment ! !

It's possible, yes. I do agree with this.

> I think there is a direct relation between:
> 1. the country's regime and its educational system, and
> 2. the political view of a person and its readiness to
> support a democratic school or any other school.

Yes, indeed.

But remember that kibbutzim account for less than 3% of
Israel's population -- and at no time has the percentage been
higher than about four. This means we are not talking about
mainstream Israel here.

> >Since the kibbutzim are all founded on principles of
> >participatory democracy, it would seem to be logical that
> >those who raise their children with the hope that they,
> >too, will opt for the kibbutz lifestyle when they become
> >adults would like to raise these children in a manner
> >which would make them as familiar as possible with the
> >principles of participatory democracy. Therefore I would
> >have thought that the philosophy of the Sudbury schools
> >would be both welcome and familiar to such people.
> The fact is they are not.
> What is a "real" democracy?:
> 1. just a participatory democracy?
> 2. just a democracy protecting the rights of individuals?
> 3. BOTH options plus universal suffrage?

This is a subject that is actually very germane, both to Sud-
bury / Summerhill type schools as well as to kibbutzim.

Democracy by itself is not the goal, at least not in my
opinion. The goal is social justice. Democracy is a means to
that goal. Indeed it is the only practical means, because
human beings are imperfect.

As I understand it, kibbutzim were founded on the notion
of social justice. And one of the tenets of social justice is
that one should not be able to impose one's will on others.

Would you not agree?

However, when wealth gets to be privately owned, those
who own a lot more wealth are able to impose their will on
others. That is one reason why private ownership of wealth
was considered by the founders of kibbutzim to be incom-
patible with fundamental principles of social justice.

I happen to agree. Would you disagree with the reasoning
above? If so, why?

I also do not think it is just or equitable that a person who
has a talent for accumulating wealth is able to amass huge
quantities of it, while others, who are not talented in that
line, are not able to amass even enough to sustain their very
needs of life.

Wealth accumulation is a talent, much like music, knowing
many languages, or dancing. I for example am talented in
pure theoretical physics and mathematics -- I can, for ex-
ample, run rings around the Theory of Relativity, poking
serious holes in the most celebrated physics work of the
twentieth century. Not too many people in the entire world
can do this.

I am also talented in cooking, gardening and writing. Not
everyone can do these things well, either.

But I am NOT talented in accumulating wealth, and never
have been, and perhaps never will be. I am comfortably off,
financially, but not rich. During a fairly long life -- I am now
almost 58 -- I have often lived below the poverty line. And
I have never made much money from my talents.

Other people, in contrast -- some of whom I count among
my own friends and relatives -- are *very* good at making
money. One of my friends lives in Beverley Hills, another
in a classy suburb of New York. They make many times
more money than I do. They can do it in their sleep, just as
I can run rings around the Theory of Relativity in my sleep.
(Well, almost.)

Now the question that arises is, is it just, equitable and fair
that some people are able to make a lot more money than
others, simply because they have a talent for that sort of
thing? It is to be remembered that the possession of money
and wealth is also accompanied by a lot of power. This is
not the case with the possession of a green thumb or a
gourmet palate. Not even with a penchant for theoretical

It seems, at least to me, that it is NOT just, equitable or
fair. (Does it seem so to you?)

That, anyway, is also why the kibbutzim do not permit the
liberty of owning private property -- or so I gather.

This does not mean that individual rights are ignored: it
means, however, that just as one does not have the right to
impose one's will on others, one does not have the right to
own so much more wealth than another that it creates a so-
cial imbalance of power.

Mind you, I am not saying that there is not another sort of
imbalance of power on kibbutzim: namely, the imbalance
that arises because some people have a flair for politics,
while others don't. But I have yet to come up with a solu-
tion to *this* imbalance. In fact I have yet to see *anyone*
come up with a solution to this imbalance.

> There are many kinds/styles of individualism.
> I can think of at least two kinds/styles of individualism:
> one rational and another one irrational.

Indeed. The point here is to ask oneself whether it is ra-
tional or not for the kibbutzniks to ban private ownership
of wealth. I think it is eminently rational. It is based on the
fact that a gross imbalance in the amount of wealth people
are allowed to own privately is not compatible with the
principles of fundamental justice, because power -- and
thence, the ability to impose one's will on others, some-
times subtly and at other times not so subtly -- inevitably
accrues to the possessor(s) of wealth.

> >In Israel, at least in the early years of the
> >kibbutzim, kibbutz children would not even sit for the
> >*bagrut* -- the official Israeli school leaving certificate
> >examination.
> Today they all sit for the *bagrut* -- the official Israeli
> school leaving certificate examination. That is, if they
> want to enter College. By the way, they also sit for the
> Israeli SAT (Psychometric exams in Israel) if they
> wish to enter College -- that leads to huge problems:
> in the domain of equal opportunities, freedom of
> learning, justice, integrity, creation of elite groups, etc., etc.

I am sorry to hear all this. Even when I myself was in Israel
-- from 1968 to '76 -- the attitude on the kibbutzim toward
education was very cavalier. (This was long after the fifties
and before, when, I heard, things were *really* wild!) I at-
tended the Faculty of Agriculture, and many of my class-
mates were kibbutzniks. Most of them were older persons,
in their thirties and even forties, who had been working at
their jobs for years before they came to the university.
They were already experts: they merely wanted to become
even more expert at whatever it was they were expert in.
But they never cared for the degree, only for the knowledge.
The degree did not, in any case, mean anything to the kib-

My adoptive "father" on Kibbutz Tsor'ah, Arthur Abra-
hams, had studied at the Faculty of Agriculture just like I
did, only he did so a few years before me. He told me he
never sat for the final exams. He said he was there only to
acquire the knowledge, not to earn a degree. He also said
there were plenty of other kibbutzniks like him.

Even the professors were, to some extent, sympathetic to
this attitude -- at least those who were themselves kib-
butzniks. One of them, who taught animal husbandry, told
us at the start of the semester that he didn't care whether
we passed exams or not, he only wanted to be sure we
learned something. I thought of testing him: on my last day
in class I simply left my notebook on my chair and walked
away, and did not sit for the exam. I never even told him I
would not be sitting for the exam. He must have glanced
through my notebook, though, because he gave me an 85%

I am exceedingly sorry to learn that all this has now gone by
the wayside. It almost makes me feel like NOT returning to

I am reminded in this regard of a story Moshe Dayan re-
counts in his autobiography. He says that when he was just
a kid, he and his parents and relatives used to go once in a
while to visit an aged relative of theirs (I forget if it was his
grandmother, or grand-aunt, or what.) She always used to
ask after the little children, but never asked *what* they
were doing: she would only ask whether, whatever it was
that they were doing, they were doing it with *all their

Now *that's* the right attitude! And even when I was in Is-
rael, that attitude had not altogether disappeared from the

> ... Israel is completely different today
> than it was forty, thirty, twenty or even ten years ago, and
> that includes kibbutzim. That's why I think you should visit
> Israel again -- you are invited.

You are most kind. But as I said, there are many obstacles
in the way at present. But one day ... perhaps one day!

> P.S. I'm including below copy of one more posting
> other than mine on this subject.
> ---------- Original Message ----------
> David Rovner schrieb:
> >
> > Ardeshir Mehta wrote:
> > >In Israel there are four main "movements" among
> > >kibbutzim, all of which are founded on strict democratic
> > >principles (for adults).
> >
> > Kibbutzim are not democratic -- as I understand
> > democracy.
> > Kibbutzim are based on Socialist Ideology, so they are lacking
> > individual rights -- they just honor the majority decision
> > aspect of democracy.
> >
> > David Rovner
> I disagree. Socialism can be everything from libertarian to dictatorial,
> as well as capitalism may or may not be democratic.
> The right to property is not the only individual right. And each right
> can only go as far as it doesn't infringe on other people's individual
> rights or their possibilities to development.
> Martin Wilke

Yes, indeed. And I quite agree with Martin. The rights of
the individual should be balanced against the rights of soci-
ety as a whole, otherwise there can be no justice.

I repeat: IMHO, democracy is not the goal, but only the
means to the goal. The goal has to be social justice.

This goes for Sudbury schools, kibbutzim, or indeed any
other institution, or even country.

Ardeshir <



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