Title: A Servant of Servants: Teachers, Students, and Ethnic Hierarchy in the Israeli State
Candidate’s Name: Jason Sanford Greenberg
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Temple University, 2004
Doctoral Advisory Committee Chair: F. Niyi Akinnaso
This dissertation investigates how the Israeli state educational system reproduces and transforms the social structure of that country by reinforcing, modifying, and blurring ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies. Specifically, this project examines how the social inequalities of non-Western Jews (Mizrahim) and Palestinian citizens of Israel are manifested in the educational system and how their educational opportunities can be understood in relation to one another and to Israelis of European descent. These questions are addressed through a comparative historical and ethnographic analysis of the role of teachers and schools in two discrete communities in the South of Israel; a planned community of formerly nomadic Palestinian-Arabs, and a development town settled largely by non-Western Jews. This project uses ethnographic data derived from classroom and community ethnographies to examine the differential delivery and effects of statewide educational curricula, teaching materials and methods, and teacher-student relations.
The role of the school and position of teachers in these communities is very different. In Arab towns teaching is a high status job, and teachers are likely to be active participants in their communities. In the Mizrahi communities, teachers are marginal actors outside the school, and teaching is often seen as a sign of personal failure. On a national level, educational success is rewarded and gendered differently, and Arab and Jewish teachers have been differentially incorporated into the state bureaucracy. On the local level, community-based hierarchies are reproduced through subject and vocational tracking, which affects the attitudes of students, parents, and teachers towards schools, education and one another. Using Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, I argue that history, economy, and ideology determine the position of teachers and role of education within these communities, and thus determine how schools reproduce social hierarchies. However, the way that schools do so is also determined by local politics and the relationship of community to state. Consequently, although the school, as an institution, is bound to the state, it is also a site of local and national struggle, and thus venue for change.