Dear Unknown Friends:
In this TRO we reprint, from the Congressional Record of the United States, the tribute to Eli Siegel by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland. August 16, 2002 was the centenary of Mr. Siegel's birth. Baltimore's mayor, Martin O'Malley, proclaimed that day "Eli Siegel Day" in Baltimore, where Mr. Siegel grew up, and Governor Parris N. Glendening proclaimed it "Eli Siegel Day" in the state of Maryland.
Last week we published three statements by speakers at the Dedication of the Eli Siegel Memorial in Druid Hill Park, Baltimore. Now we publish more: first, the statement by New York City teachers Lois Mason and Rosemary Plumstead on the tremendous importance of Mr. Siegel's thought for American education. Ms. Mason teaches history at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, Mrs. Plumstead science at Fiorello LaGuardia High School of the Arts in Manhattan. Both are instructors of the course for educators "The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel As Teaching Method."
And we publish the statements of August 16 on the fact that Aesthetic Realism is the means to end racism truly at last. Arnold Perey, PhD, is an anthropologist and Aesthetic Realism consultant. His Columbia University doctoral dissertation (1973) is based on Aesthetic Realism. Monique Michael is a New York City teacher; and Allan Michael is a Maritime Captain and photographer. Jaime Torres, DPM, is Chief of Podiatry at Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital and on the advisory board of the National Hispanic Medical Association.
As I said in Baltimore, Eli Siegel met, year after year, the anger of people who resented his complete, beautiful honesty and his enormous knowledge. Persons in established positions, and others, were furious that they needed to learn so much from him. And they felt his integrity showed them up. In the face of that hideous anger, Mr. Siegel was always true to himself, to truth, to the best thing in humanity. The honoring of him by a US city and state begins what all America will express: pride in his existence, his kind grandeur; and gratitude that we can learn from him.
The following poems show something of who Eli Siegel was. Each, differently, is a oneness of vibrant clarity and depth, and has us see wonder in the world.
From the Congressional
Mr. CUMMINGS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor a great Baltimorean poet, educator, and founder of Aesthetic Realism, Eli Siegel.
Mr. Siegel was born in 1902 and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where his contributions to literature and humanity began. Mr. Siegel founded the philosophy Aesthetic Realism in 1941, based on principles such as: Man's deepest desire, his largest desire, is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis, and ... The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.
Mr. Siegel explained that the deepest desire of every person is "to like the world on an honest basis." He gave thousands of lectures on the arts and sciences.
Mr. Siegel's work continues at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, where classes, lectures, workshops, dramatic presentations, and poetry readings are offered. In addition, a teaching method, based on Aesthetic Realism, has been tremendously successful .... The teaching method may be used as an effective tool to stop racism and promote tolerance; because it enables people of all races to see others with respect and kindness.
In 1925, Eli Siegel won the esteemed Nation Poetry Prize for "Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana," which brought him to national attention. "Hot Afternoons," Mr. Siegel said, was affected by his thoughts of Druid Hill Park. And so, it is fitting that on August 16, 2002, the city of Baltimore will dedicate the Eli Siegel Memorial at Druid Hill Park on a site near the Madison Avenue entrance, not far from his early home on Newington Avenue. The bronze memorial plaque ... includes a sculptured portrait and poetry.
Mayor Martin O'Malley has designated August 16, 2002 as "Eli Siegel Day" in Baltimore. At this time, I would like to insert the Mayor's proclamation and a few of Eli Siegel's poems found in the June 5, 2002 [issue] of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation magazine for the record.
Eli Siegel died in 1978, but his poetry and the education of Aesthetic Realism will be studied in every English, literature, and art classroom across the nation for years to come. I would like to end this tribute by reciting a poem Eli Siegel wrote honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
The Greatest Educator
We have seen that with a steadiness and beauty akin to the rising of the sun, the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method enables young people — including the most disadvantaged — to LEARN! We teach students from the toughest areas of New York City; students who are angry, jaded, have given up on themselves, and mistakenly use the economic injustice, prejudice, and violence they witness daily to feel, "I hate this world." They come to love learning as they see what Eli Siegel was the first educator to explain: "The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it." They see that each subject in the curriculum represents a world that can be honestly respected because it has a logical, sensible structure of opposites — the same opposites that are in them.
As I [Rosemary Plumstead] teach a unit on the heart, for example, I show that the valves in our heart are delicate AND strong at once. As I [Lois Mason] teach US history, I show that Abraham Lincoln put together mightily toughness AND gentleness. This is how we want to be. Mr. Siegel's seeing that the opposites relate world, art, and self has ended the agonizing rift in education between fact and meaning! Students from city to suburbs learn successfully, remember facts, and not only pass their required exams, but are kinder!
And as they see what Mr. Siegel explained, that contempt is the cause of every instance of brutality between people — slavery, the Holocaust, the horror of 9/11 — and that the same contempt is in them, they don't want to have it. The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method brings out students' true intelligence and their finest ethical sense. That is why we believe that Eli Siegel is the greatest educator ever to live and the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is the birthright of every student and teacher.
Racism Can End
For centuries there have been people of science and thought who wrote against racism. As an anthropologist I have read many, including the great Montesquieu. But no one understood the CAUSE of that vicious thing — until Eli Siegel did. He himself was completely without prejudice. And, as I know personally and professionally, the education he founded enables racism within a person to end!
He explained that prejudice and racism — responsible for such horrors — don't begin with an attitude to people of different skin color. They begin with the ordinary contempt people have day by day for what is different from oneself: the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world."
From the first class I attended with him, Eli Siegel taught me what no professor ever had, or could. Looking at me with the kindest, keenest eyes I had ever seen, he asked, "Are you more interested in being better than other people or as good as you can be?" And he was to ask if I felt superior to the people I had lived with and studied in New Guinea. Yes, I had.
I had often criticized racism in others. But for all my study of culture in Africa, the Amazon, India, the Pacific — like so many other social scientists who saw themselves as liberal — I myself still had prejudices and scorn that no university education ever took away. Mr. Siegel taught me their cause: he wrote, "As soon as we see that other human beings are placed differently from ourselves, contempt does what it can to include them." I have studied hundreds of cultures, and in every one I have seen how contempt has impelled people without their being able to identify it or combat it. And when a person's contempt is criticized — as the philosophy Eli Siegel founded makes possible — prejudice ends.
Mr. Siegel taught me to see how people of skin tones different from mine have the same feelings I do and deserve the same respect and dignity. He was great. And part of his greatness was to enable racism to change from inside out: in the human heart and mind.
Statement of Monique Michael
I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am of both African and European ancestry. In Aesthetic Realism and in Eli Siegel I found the knowledge and the person who understood the cause of all racial prejudice and were completely against it. I also met the education that made sense of and ended the painful confusion I felt about my mixed ancestry. As Dr. Perey said, Mr. Siegel identified the seed of all prejudice as contempt.
My family moved to America in the early 1960s into an all white neighborhood, where we were seen with suspicion because we looked different. While this prejudice had a bad effect on us, I did not know that the scornful way I myself saw people who were different from me was also unjust and hurt me very much.
Early in my life I got the message that being white was far superior to being black. For instance, I was told that I should not marry a black man because we had to become lighter rather than darker as the generations went on. For most of my life I felt I was better than anyone who was darker skinned and poorer than my family.
When I learned from Aesthetic Realism what Mr. Siegel showed about contempt, I felt deeply understood and so relieved. It explained the prejudice I had been met with and also my own injustice. I saw that it was my desire to look down on people that made me nervous around them. It also made me unable to value my African ancestry. In The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss writes:
For racism to end, ... what is necessary is the seeing and feeling that the relation of sameness and difference between ourselves and [another] person is beautiful. People need to feel ... that difference of race is like the difference to be found in music: two notes are different, but they ... complete each other; each needs the other to be expressed richly, to be fully itself.As I saw that I am related to all people, that we are the same and different, I began to be proud of being both African and European — and to think about all people justly.
Eli Siegel's understanding of the cause of racism is one of his many great contributions to humanity. When studied worldwide — and my life is evidence for this — it will make honest kindness and respect alive in the hearts and minds of all people, and will make the world safe and civilized.
Statement of Allan Michael
It is hard to be black in this country and feel that justice is going to come your way, because black people have endured horrific injustice for years, from slavery to racial profiling. This has made for tremendous anger in our nation. For example, I was angry and humiliated being stopped on Route 80 by a state trooper for no apparent reason, as my private belongings were systematically strewn out on the roadside.
I join my wife, Monique, and fellow speakers in saying I know that Aesthetic Realism is the means to end racism. In fact, the Aesthetic Realism education is living proof that through what Mr. Siegel explained, people of one background not only can be fair to others, but can understand them. It was through the thought of Eli Siegel, a white man, that I was able to understand the deepest things in myself; and this points to a fundamental hope for all races.
In beautiful prose, Mr. Siegel stated:
It will be found that black and white man have the same goodnesses, the same temptations, and can be criticized in the same way. The skin may be different, but the aorta is quite the same.Humanity will thank him as I do for teaching in Aesthetic Realism how all people can honestly see each other with depth, kindness, and respect.
Statement of Jaime Torres, DPM
When I came to New York from Puerto Rico to study at Fordham University in the 1970s, I was outraged by the daily discrimination blacks and Puerto Ricans endured. I was denied housing, told I was admitted to college because of a quota, and discriminated against because of my accent. But my sense of outrage was not enough to change my own prejudice and how I saw other people, whom I often judged by their skin tone, the texture of their hair, and how little or much money they had. Contemptuously, I gave myself the right to see anyone as I pleased, but also felt disgusted and painfully lonely.
Today I stand here as a person representing millions of Hispanics, saying, Gracias, Eli Siegel, for understanding that the fundamental cause of prejudice and racism is the human desire for contempt.
Contempt, I learned,
is behind every act of discrimination — from the way I refused to join
clubs in college that had African-Americans and New York-born Puerto Ricans,
to the horrors of lynching, the beatings, racial profiling. I thank God
I met the kind thought of Eli Siegel in Aesthetic Realism consultations
and heard criticism of my contempt that changed my prejudice. I learned
that trying to know and be fair to someone different from me is the same
as my self-expression, pleasure, and pride. It is an emergency in this
country that we like the way we see other people. Tolerance by itself will
never do, because it doesn't satisfy what every person wants most: to feel
that through whatever and whomever we meet, we can like the world and ourselves
Aesthetic Realism is based on these principles, stated by Eli Siegel:
1. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world on an honest or accurate basis.
2. The greatest danger for a person is to have contempt for the world and what is in it .... Contempt can be defined as the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.
3. All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.
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