Bait, Sefer (=Home, Book, in Hebrew means School)
Osnat Bar-Or

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A two-year project of photographing state schools, both elementary and high schools, in Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. The project addresses the visual language of schools, as reflection of the educational ideology and as the basic mechanism for constructing the relationship between the participants, i.e. teachers, student, parents, education system and community members. The project was shown in two solo exhibitions simultaneously: at the Herzeliya Museum and at the Museum of Art, Ein Harod. Concurrently, a book was published by Hakibbutz Hameuhad, containing the photographs together with essays written by scholars from various cultural disciplines, such as philosophy, anthropology, education, community, civil society and architecture.

I began this project as a young mother feeling discomfort with the education system. I toured and photographed schools, looking for common and familiar sights. I tried, with the help of the camera, to define the visual code of an Israeli school. I documented elementary schools, junior and high-schools of different sectors, all state schools.

DSCN9525 smallIn the introduction to the book I wrote: “The visual text of Israeli schools expresses the attitude of the education system towards children and the conditions for the dialogue within the school’s environment. The physical expressions of the schools, demonstrated in its architecture and texts, reveal its educational ideology and construct the atmosphere in it. The visual text shows us the material and intellectual poverty of the Israeli educations system and exposes the low priority given to children and their education by decision makers.”

From the responses to the photographs I have received during lectures to students, teachers and school principles, I learned that there is great similarity between the architecture of public schools to the architecture of prisons, factories, and facilities of army and police. These are all defined by Michel Foucault as ‘discipline institutions’ that discipline and create obedient subjects, deficient of independent thinking, critical thinking and creativity. This 19th century’s industrial revolution way of thinking seems problematic nowadays, when creativity and cooperation, entrepreneurship and interpersonal communication are needed and praised more than ever.

In the light of the discourse about the demand for loyalty to the Jewish state, looking at the Israeli education system through these photographs raises questions about the commitment and loyalty of the state to its citizens.

In order to cultivate citizenship of active partners within a democratic state, there is a need for rethinking the goals, ideology and methods of our education system. It is unlikely that the system itself will lead us towards such progressive thinking. It is up to parents, students, teachers, principles and community members to combine forces and do so.



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