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The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

 NUMBER 1341.—December 16, 1998

Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 

The Most Respected Teaching Method

Dear Unknown Friends:

Along with poems by Eli Siegel, we print an article by Bénédicte Caneill, science teacher at the French-American School of New York. She first presented it at a public seminar last year: "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Explains Why Students Don't Learn—& How They Can!"

Three times every year in public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, teachers—principally New York City public school teachers—have documented, with fresh, vital illustrations from their classrooms, the magnificent success of this method in teaching subjects from science to history, from mathematics to art, in classes from kindergarten through college, and in some of the most economically beset neighborhoods in the city. New York City teachers have shown year after year, not only the Aesthetic Realism teaching method's beautiful ability to have students learn, to have them see knowledge as a friend—but that through this method, prejudice and racism in all their ugliness really change: students of different ethnic backgrounds become friendly to and regardful of each other!

Eli Siegel is the philosopher to show that "the purpose of education is to like the world" (Self and World, Definition Press, p. 5). And he identified that thing in us which curtails—and may curtail intensely—our ability to learn: it is contempt, the "disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world." He showed that this feeling—that we are more if we can make something else insignificant—is the cause both of mental difficulty and of cruelty, including the cruelty that is prejudice. To have contempt for the world is to feel a triumph in disliking it.

It has always been dislike of the world that has made people unable to learn facts about mathematics, history, spelling. Every fact is an ambassador of reality. And we can be disinclined to welcome an ambassador of what we see as an enemy, into that home which is our mind. There are many ways of coming to dislike the world. For centuries, children have used the fact that the world is confusing to dislike it. They have used the hypocrisy of adults to have an encompassing contempt. But it is exceedingly necessary for every American to be honest about the following (and there is a tremendous lack of honesty about it): the way wealth is now had in America, the way profit economics is making people struggle and be in poverty, is not only a hideous, cruel thing—it is causing in the children of America tremendous turmoil, anger, and disgust. The disgust and anger are being taken out on the world itself; including on subjects in school, and on other human beings.

The Turmoil of America's Children

The night before Thanksgiving, ABC television reported that 26 million Americans rely on food pantries in order to eat. While economics in America is based on using human beings for profit—on some few persons making much money through the labor of others, whom they pay as little as possible—the schoolchildren of America will be in turmoil, because they are being rooked and made to suffer. Then, a boy whose parents can't afford to pay for food and who is worried and furious about what may happen to them and him tomorrow, is expected, by persons running this nation, to do well in a classroom!

Aesthetic Realism says, with logic and passion, that America must be fully democratic: the wealth of America must be owned by this boy and all his fellow citizens. Yet the grandeur and might of the Aesthetic Realism teaching method can be seen in the following fact: even now, even with all the injustice schoolchildren face—through the Aesthetic Realism method they learn, they welcome knowledge into their minds. That is because they see, through this great principle, that every item of the curriculum shows the world as such is beautifully made: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." They see that a subject, in all its difference from themselves, is like them too—is not a dull or fearsome enemy, representing an inimical world. How this happens, is what the article by Ms. Caneill illustrates.

Two Poems, and This Year

This year, teachers who use the Aesthetic Realism teaching method have been met with gratitude, excitement, and eagerness as they conducted workshops illustrating this method at professional conferences. For example, Rosemary Plumstead of LaGuardia High School taught a workshop at the Annual Conference of the Science Council of New York City, as did Sally Ross (Norman Thomas High School) and Barbara McClung (JHS 56M). Mrs. McClung, assisted by Lauren Phillips (PS 7M), conducted a workshop at the Annual Conference of the Elementary School Science Association. Donita Ellison (LaGuardia High School) and Lori Lerner (PS 59M) presented workshops at the Long Island Art Teachers Association and New York City Art Teachers Association Annual Conferences. And articles about its success by teachers who use the Aesthetic Realism method have been published this year in American periodicals: for example, Jeffrey Williams' "A Teaching Method That Is 'Scientific and Kind,'" in New York Teacher (Nov. 18), the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers.

The following short poems by Eli Siegel, with their rich music, stand for his kindness. He wrote the first in 1954, the second in 1926. They are about this great fact, which he showed to be at the heart of education: there is no limit to how much the world can add to us, be us, through our wanting to know and feel it justly.

Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education

Poems By Eli Siegel


The sun is waiting in the sky, 

Is waiting to be ours; 

And many things are waiting, too, 

Ourselves, the ground, and flowers.

There's Holly in Your Cheek 

With you it's Christmas all the while: 

There's a gift in your smile, 

There's a present in your eyes, 

There's music when you speak, 

there's holly in your cheek.

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A Dramatic, Beautiful Change
By Bénédicte Caneill

I am proud to describe how, through the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, my earth science students at the French-American School of New York changed dramatically about a subject they hadn't wanted to learn. When this 8th grade class began to study rocks and rock formations, Patrick Rogers,* for example, wanted to speak instead about legends of the Far East, Atlantis, or extraterrestrials, and in the middle of a lesson would ask questions about the Crusades or black magic. Sacha Manset said he would rather study the relations of boys and girls than geology. Clara Williams said she wished she did not have to take earth science because it was "dead." And I saw many bored looks. This scornful selectivity about what facts they wanted to give their attention to, is a form of contempt. And contempt, Eli Siegel showed, is the interference with learning!

When I was a high school student in Toulouse, France, I felt contemptuously that certain subjects were just "not for me"—particularly geology. If I could not master something quickly, I thought it wasn't worth spending time on. Though I managed to learn what was needed, I felt I could dismiss a subject as soon as I took the exam. But I was really making myself increasingly narrow. I began to have difficulty concentrating even on subjects I liked.

I will never forget the day when I learned that every subject is a means to seeing that this world has a structure that is beautiful and logical: the oneness of opposites. In an Aesthetic Realism consultation, when I told my consultants I felt I had to be constantly on the move, they spoke about rest and motion in the earth—and in me. "Do you think," they asked, "something did a very good job of engineering in arranging that the earth have such constancy and steadiness and yet be in continuous motion?" I was thrilled! Yes; and that separation I had made between myself inside and what was outside of me, changed.

When we see, through the opposites, that we are related to a volcano, a fossil of 250 million years ago, or sand we sit on at the beach, real learning takes place and children and teachers can respect ourselves!

They See Opposites—& Want to Learn

In this class, students from France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Tunisia looked at a profile of the ocean floor. And when I asked, "What do we see? Are there opposites here?," Sacha Manset described high and low: mountains, steep cliffs; and deep valleys and what looked like a big canyon. The class was surprised to see that the ocean floor is part of the earth's crust: there is a continuity between the land forms on the surface of the earth and in the depths of the ocean. In fact, in many places in the world, like Utah's Monument Valley, what is on the surface now was once at the depths of an ocean. The earth, in its structure, makes surface and depth, high and low, one!

Everyone wanted to give instances of these opposites. Charles Valéry said, "I can feel excited or high during the weekend when I'm playing ball, but low during the school week." María Gómez said her English teacher told her that her last essay was superficial and she needed to be deeper. Sacha Manset said he thought of an iceberg floating on the surface but with nine-tenths of it under water.

I told the class that once, in the Aesthetic Realism education workshop I am so grateful to attend, I was asked this question about surface and depth, "Do you think you can look like a sedimentary rock but inside you have the volcano?" "Wow," said María, "you did not want to show your true personality!" No, I didn't; and I also told them about this question I was asked in an Aesthetic Realism consultation: "Is there a difference between what you show to other people and what you feel inside?" The students were paying very close attention.

Patrick Rogers said he can judge people too much on the surface, by how they walk or talk, and felt bad that he had judged a new student unfairly. Helaine Burton said she is learning, from things I've said in classes, that our appearance and skin can look different but deeply we all have feelings. We spoke about how we can see ourselves as deep and other people as only surfaces. The earth's crust has a lesson for us: in the way it is made, it contradicts the contemptuous desire to separate these opposites.

Accretion and Subduction in Geology

In this classroom, where earlier there had been groans of boredom, there were now pleasure and awe as we looked, on a map of the ocean floor, at the mid-ridge system, the largest system of mountains in the world, circling the earth and crossed by faults. The mid-ocean ridge is where hot magma from below pushes up and out, forming new crust, new ocean floor. This process is called "sea floor spreading," or accretion, which means a growing or growth. In fact, at this moment, this growth is pushing America and Africa—once together—farther apart.

Meanwhile, there is a counter motion. The crust is broken up into large sections, called plates; and these are being pulled under in another part of the planet. For instance, along the coast of Chile, crust is disappearing, plunging under the land, then melting under pressure to form new magma at the earth's center. This process is called subduction—a driving under. Equal amounts of earth crust are removed through subduction as are added through accretion, thus maintaining the volume of the earth.

Charles Valéry, who had said at the beginning of the unit that he would rather be on the beach than study the ocean floor, exclaimed, "It is beautiful!" We spoke about the opposites of addition, or building up, in accretion, and subtraction, or breaking down, in subduction, and how there is a beautiful oneness of these opposites to maintain the integrity of the earth. How different that is from the way we can think we will maintain our personality: adding to ourselves by making less of the outside world—which is contempt. One form contempt took in the class was calling names, like "idiot" or "stupid." "When we call someone stupid," I asked, "are we adding something to ourselves by subtracting meaning from another person?" "Yes!" the students said. "Is this for the purpose of being fair?" I asked. "No!" said Charles immediately; "plus, you don't like yourself."

There has been a tremendous change in my students. And as they learned more about erosion, sedimentary rocks, and fossils—subjects they had earlier told me bored them to death—they were excited and able to remember facts, because they saw a deep relation to themselves. Charles Valéry, who had come to school angry, sure that America would be boring and this school would be horrible, is now coming into the classroom with a smile. He is now able to concentrate; his grades have improved dramatically; and recently he was very proud to work on a geological time scale, a project with two other boys, one of whom he had previously made fun of.

Through seeing the opposites in geology, instead of dragging their feet, my students come to class with eagerness and are kinder to each other. I love Aesthetic Realism and Eli Siegel for providing a beautiful, scientific method that meets young people's deepest hope and enables them to learn!  black diamond

*The names of students have been changed.

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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First Thursday of each month, 6:30 PM: Seminars with speakers from Aesthetic Realism faculty

Third Saturday of each month, 8 PM: Aesthetic Realism Dramatic Presentations
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The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (TRO) is a biweekly periodical of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
Editor: Ellen Reiss
Coordinators: Nancy Huntting, Meryl Simon, Steven Weiner

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TRO: Home |  Current |  Art |  Literature |  Racism |  Education |  Nat'l Ethics |  Love |  Economics |  Memorial |  Site Map
"Is a Person an Aesthetic Situation?" by Eli Siegel: a short explanation of Aesthetic Realism
The Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company in New York City. Authors in the repertory include Ibsen, Sheridan, Shakespeare, O'Neill.
Ellen Reiss, Commentaries in TRO:
The Mideast  |  Poetry of Eli Siegel |  Unions
Lord Byron |  Harry Potter |  Sherlock Holmes
Robert Burns |  The 'criticism' of John Keats
Racism & Its Solution
Aesthetic Realism Resources:
Aesthetic Realism Consultations
Two Biographies of Eli Siegel:
[1] Aesthetic Realism Foundation
[2] Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company Site
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
Art and Literature:
The Terrain Gallery / Aesthetic Realism Foundation
The Place of Aesthetic Realism in Culture & Literature

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method:
Lesson Plans in Diverse Subjects
Teaching Indian Culture in the United States:
The Aesthetic Realism Method
Further Resources:
Essays and News Pieces about Aesthetic Realism
Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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