The Right of Every Child
Dear Unknown Friends:
This issue of TRO is about the greatest friend there has ever been to education and every child: the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. We print a paper that junior high school science teacher Barbara McClung presented earlier this year at a public seminar titled "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method: Prejudice Ends—in Students and Teachers—and Learning Succeeds!" This ached-for method arises from Aesthetic Realism—the philosophy of unprecedented cultural richness, exactitude, comprehensiveness, and kindness, founded by the person increasingly seen to be the most courageous, passionately just man of thought who ever lived: Eli Siegel.
In the midst of all the failure and fury that pervade New York schools, it is a fact, documented year after year, that in those classrooms where the Aesthetic Realism teaching method is the basis, learning grandly succeeds, and students become kinder. Through the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, in classes from kindergarten through high school—in Brooklyn, lower Manhattan, Harlem—students want and are able to learn, including students who had given up on themselves and been seen as failures. And it is a fact, as important as any in this world, that through the Aesthetic Realism method, prejudice, in all its hideousness and brutality, ends!
The basis of this teaching method is in three principles: 1) Eli Siegel showed that "the purpose of education "—and also the purpose of everyone's life—"is to like the world" (Self and World, p. 5).
He showed 2) that what stops a person, of any age, from learning is contempt for the world. So many children in America, walking through the doors of schools, sitting at desks, have come to feel the world is an enemy and a mess. They have horribly been encouraged to do so through an economic system, the profit system, which makes millions of children poor. Not having the food they want and need, or good clothing; seeing their parents humiliated because they can't provide for the family—this is not caused by the world, with its lively curriculum. It is caused by various human beings determined to have a nation owned in such a way that some individuals can be superior to others. But it is hard for a child, beset and robbed by the profit system, to distinguish.
Other children, who are not poor, also see their parents worried about money, and fighting, and use that to dislike reality. And children use the hypocrisy and selfishness of adults to hate—wrongly—the world itself.
Then in a classroom, without knowing why, they are deeply against the subjects, facts, words which arise from that world. They do not want to give a home in their minds to items coming from a world they dislike. They can also, without being aware, get a triumph from not letting those items of knowledge into them: from showing "the world isn't good enough to sully me! " That triumph is contempt.
The Cause of Prejudice
And contempt, Mr. Siegel greatly explained, is also what makes for every instance of prejudice and racism. Prejudice comes from the feeling, "If I can look down at this person representing the world different from me, I'm Somebody: I have the sense I'm better than not only him but this whole crummy world!"
3) It is through this vital principle stated by Eli Siegel that students, as Mrs. McClung shows, come to love a subject—and learn it!: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." Students see, through the subject, that this world has a structure which is sensible, beautiful—the oneness of opposites—and so the world gets their respect and care, not their scorn and hatred. They see, for instance, that the drama of less and more in mathematics is like the drama within them: does What's-Not-Me add to me or lessen me? They see in a history lesson that people long ago are like them, not just different; so they are ready to see that a student in the same room whose skin and background are different is richly like them too—not someone to defeat or sneer at. They see through the way one sentence is made more valuable by others it joins with in a paragraph, that they can be more their individual selves through meeting justly other things and people. This principle is magnificent in the history of philosophic thought; but it is also a lifeline and mind-line for every child, stymied, beleaguered, yet aching to learn about and like this wide world.
Earth and a Child
I love the short poem by Eli Siegel that we publish here. It has us feel, through its words and their beautiful music, the earth is both magnificent and warm. That is how every child deserves to see the world. The earth of America, with its "common hills" and all that earth's wealth, should belong to every child, in common: millions of children should be defrauded no longer. And America's children have the right to like this world, and to learn, through Aesthetic Realism, how. Just as we feel sameness and difference in the rhyme of "everyone" and "done," a child has the right to feel with love and pride that this world she was born into is at once different and the same as herself.
There is no better news for children and everyone than the fact that—despite bloated egos—Aesthetic Realism is increasingly reaching America, because truth is immortal and Eli Siegel bravely represented it all the time.