The topic in one of my university subjects last week was ‘education and development.’ It involved considering the power of education and the influence it has in shaping ‘developing’ nations. A repeated theme throughout the week was the idea of two, seemingly contradictory, perspectives on education. One view of education is that it involves the transmission of knowledge to prepare one for the workforce. The other view is that education is a force for transforming society.
In my life, these perspectives are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, my education has been powerfully shaped by these understandings of education and its potential to be transformative, for me personally and for society more broadly.
I completed secondary school at one of Melbourne’s academically strong and identity rich Jewish schools. In terms of formal education it prepared me well to be able to enter into university and life out of the comforts of school. However, I think what made my schooling experience unique and meaningful was the extra-curricular activities I was fortunate enough to be involved in, especially with regards to informal education. These “classes” didn’t allow me to sit and write notes, but to actively engage in ideas. They forced me to question my personal relationship to Judaism, Israel, as well as societal issues around me. Through doing the ‘hadracha’ (leadership) course at school, I was encouraged to explore and then enact ideas of what it means to be a leader and to set an example to those around me. This served as the spring board which prompted me to participate in the hadracha course with Habonim Dror. This ‘spring’ served to change my life dramatically, opening up years of intense and fulfilling involvement with this youth group.
I am now a ‘madricha’ (leader) at Habonim Dror. I stand at the front gate each week greeting parents and the chanichim (participants) as they enter. When the sun is shining and Israeli music is playing through the speakers, it is a most beautiful feast for the senses. The picture is of 70 or so Year 3 to Year 8s arriving at Habo House who are met by their madrichim. No money is needed to come, as we strive to facilitate the most inclusive environment possible.
I think we often take for granted how special the youth movement structure is. The fact that so many young people are choosing to come to a space to learn and be challenged on the weekends and during holidays is something very special. There is something deeply profound about the work that youth movements are doing. When I tell people at university that I am ‘volunteering’ this definitely does not give justice to my experience at Habo. It is not something I check in and check out of. It is something I am doing with people I feel connected to as well as something that continues to challenge me.
Something I find meaningful about my involvement in Habo is that I am simultaneously being a ‘madricha’ and a ‘chanicha’, a facilitator of learning and a learner. Every week we, as madrichim, have a program run for us, to stimulate ideas and challenge our values and connection to the movement. This year I was fortunate enough to travel to Israel for a seminar with my friends to discuss what it meant to fulfil movement values. Here we discussed what role we, as a youth movement, have in being part of the community in Australia but at the same time transforming it or offering an alternative to the status quo.
Youth movements are uniquely positioned to be able to provide a ‘transformative education’ though action-based education. The idea of our camps is to create a ‘counter culture’ in which we can express our idealistic vision for society. While this is on the small scale, having chanichim experience this ‘alternative’ environment sends a powerful message. Something as small as putting everyone’s snacks together, because everyone should be able to enjoy snacks regardless of whether they had the means of buying them, sends a power message about inclusivity.
Habonim Dror, and youth movements in general, certainly embody the notion of ‘transformative’ education in our society, educating people to take their place as informed, active and committed citizens. Nevertheless I would argue that the dichotomy between education that ‘transmits’ and education that ‘transforms’ needs to be broken down. Formal education also transforms society and I wouldn’t be at university, exploring different ideas of development and theories of education, gaining the skills to shape society without this foundation. I am a product of the two forms of education I received. At the moment, it is through youth movement involvement that I am focusing my energies on doing what I can to ‘move’ society to become more equal and just. I suspect I will find other avenues over life’s journey.