Yemin Orde – the Wingate Youth Village in Israel, honoring the memory of British Brigadier General Orde Charles Wingate, is a 77-acre compound located on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Five hundred at-risk youths, boys and girls from K to 12th grade, are raised and educated in the village, and an additional thirty-six families of staff members live on site.
Residential education in the Israeli context has been a major player in shaping the face of the emerging civil society in the new State. As such, the aims of the upbringing and education of these children had to coincide with the aims of society at large. In the first decades following the establishment of the State, those aims led to an effort to crystallize in the world of the youngsters a sense of commitment to society by enhancing values and behavior codes that would contribute to the survival and development of the new State. During recent decades, the trend, following that of the western world, has moved towards a more individualist direction. At the same time, Israeli society has moved from the pioneer era to become a society marked by socio-economic divisions, with the unavoidable price to bear.
The educational philosophy and methodology which has been developed in Yemin Orde is grounded in the educational tradition of the early Israeli Youth Village movement, which began to take root in the first quarter of the 20th century. Its principles and practices had to be carefully updated, in order to adequately address contemporary educational and social needs.
A Sense of Coherence
A major source of inspiration for this process is the work of Prof. Aaron Antonovsky1. His concept of “sense of coherence,” or way of making sense of the world – which he advocated as being a major factor in determining how well a person manages stress and stays healthy – is one of the cornerstones of our philosophy and methodology. Our work assumption is that a coherent perception and outlook on life is a significant resource in handling difficult life situations as well as mundane commitments. Many symptoms prevalent among at-risk youth – imminent frustration, lack of self-control, poor language skills and deficiency in abstract thinking – can be attributed to lacking a sense of coherence.
The Yemin Orde philosophy is a practical adaptation of this school of thought to the field of at-risk child care. The existential early experience of the children entails abandonment and separation, bewilderment in the face of a host of conflicting messages as well as a complete lack of stable life anchors. It is therefore of primary importance that any educational or therapeutic endeavor to cause transformation in the lives of at-risk children must first and foremost create an all-encompassing, cohesive environment to draw all the fragmented components into a unified center of gravity.
Thus, a ‘community of meaning’ comes into being – a concept that we share with the late Kurt Hahn2, founder of the Salem and Gordonstoun schools, who believed that schools of the future must function as ‘communities of meaning’. The ‘Village Way’ is the heading for the education platform used by Yemin Orde educators to create an environment marked by coherence, a potent antidote to the children’s inner brokenness, social alienation and helplessness. For three decades now, this educational methodology has proven to be instrumental in instilling in youth both emotional fortitude and a moral backbone.
Replacing the Lost Village
The concept ‘community of meaning’ also corresponds with the now famous African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It aims to reproduce, for the benefit of children here and now, the qualities and structure that were the very essence of the original village of humanity.
Historically, the centrality of the relationship between parents and children could be taken for granted. In past times, most of humanity lived in villages and tribal communities, surrounded by their extended family, and a sense of coherence and meaning was woven into the natural flow of life. Children grew and developed within a wholesome aura, in which parents and other significant adult figures radiated an emotionally coherent set of qualities, connections, skills and beliefs.
We cannot return to the lost village of humanity. We can, however, create a ‘village state of mind’ – a deliberately structured inter-connectedness with others that is natural to the anticipatory structure of human consciousness. The Yemin Orde methodology titled ‘Village Way’ is about imbuing the temporal continuum or the psychological present of all involved – both children and adults – with six carefully defined elements of content. Our educational community has been designed to reproduce the basic outline of humanity’s lost village – a village that can instill in its children a recognition and pride in their past, a sense of direction and security about the future, an openness to transcendent values, a will to improve communal reality, and a deeper understanding and insight regarding their weaknesses and strengths.
The ‘Village Way’ corresponds with an array of theoretical and practical developments, a product of significant thinkers as a legacy of the 20th century and its accumulated experience and wisdom. Jerome S. Bruner, in his famous 1977 piece, The Process of Education3, speaks of a “widespread renewal of concern for the quality and intellectual aims of education”. Bruner believed the principle of “knowledge structures” necessitates the structuring of spiral educational programs that periodically re-visit fundamental concepts in order to enhance their comprehension by the child. Thus, seemingly “sterile” knowledge is progressively augmented by deeper layers of meaning uncovered within the inner world of the learner.
Though many years have passed, the underlying questions regarding the quality of educational practice and its spiritual objectives remain unscathed. The ‘Village Way’ expands Bruner’s ideas beyond the field of knowledge acquisition to the complete and diverse network that is life in the educational system. This is consistent with Jerome S. Bruner’s later reasoning: “…the evolution of the hominid mind is linked to the development of a way of life where ‘reality’ is represented by a symbolism shared by members of a cultural community […] This symbolic mode is not only shared by a community, but conserved, elaborated and passed on to succeeding generations who, by virtue of this transmission, continue to maintain the culture’s identity and way of life.”4 . Indeed, these elements are the very core of the ‘Village Way’.
Empirical experience has shown over the years that deeds, words, customs and symbols can be embedded within an effective framework that instills them with meaning. The ‘Village Way’ regards the creation of an educational environment that embodies – even in its very structure – the message of meaningfulness and wholeness as a vital necessity which can be realized by structured programs.
At the same time, the ‘Village Way’ challenges the relevance of one of the major paradigms for measurement and assessment of educational programs, namely scholastic performance. This criticism about the dwindling aims of education was echoed by numerous thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead, in his book The Aims of Education.5 It was T.S. Eliot who lamented the decline of intellectual culture, asking,
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”6
The Importance of the Social Setting
The ‘Village Way’ is about the belief that the aim of education is to instill in young individuals knowledge and wisdom derived from their interaction with a surrounding environment of substance and meaning. Therefore, a valid indicator of success is a graduate’s ability to become a normative head of household and a contributing member of society. In this ‘age of information’, characterized by constant measurement and comparison, it is extremely unpopular to place a seemingly unquantifiable paradigm ahead of scholastic achievements. Yet, the ‘Village Way’ does exactly that. Furthermore, we assert that scholastic achievements will, in fact, be a most welcome by-product of a successful upbringing of a human being.
It was the Coleman Report7 which already half a century ago concluded that academic achievements are unequivocally conditioned by the child’s social background. The fact that, years later, scholastic achievements are still heralded as the principle paradigm for success poses the question whether the Coleman Report has ever really been acknowledged. The ‘Village Way’ is about creating environments of structured elements, that offer at-risk children compensation for what natural justice should have provided them with – a reasonable family in a normative community setting. This approach entails a most significant built-in therapeutic element. The enhancement of scholastic achievements, in our viewpoint, cannot effectively materialize in a context void of remedial awareness.
In this sense, we adhere to a holistic perception of the child, his past, present and his future. Furthermore, we believe that the causes behind his troubled personal status must be addressed in the course of his formative years in order to prevent inter-generational transference.
It is our profound belief that the world doesn’t need educational institutions – but it desperately needs dynamic communities for children, environments which have the potential to produce people who are motivated to build a better world.
Dr Chaim Peri works at Yemin Orde Youth Village, Mt. Carmel, Israel.
1 Antonovsky, Aaron (1987) Unraveling the mystery of health: how people manage stress and stay well. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Publication
2 James, Thomas – Journal of Experiential Education, 1990 : “Kurt Hahn and the Aims of Education” ; http://www.kurthahn.org/writings/writings.html
3 Bruner, J.S. (1977) The Process of Education, Harvard University Press
4 Bruner, J.S. (1996) The Culture of Education, Harvard University Press
6 Eliot, T.S. (1934) Choruses from The Rock /, Faber & Faber, London
7 J.S. Coleman, J.S. et al (1966) Equality of Education, US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, US Government Printing Office