What Education & the Economy Are For
Dear Unknown Friends:
We publish an article by educator Christopher Balchin, originally of Kent, England—on the great Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. And I am going to relate the principles behind this method to economics—and the economy from which millions of children are suffering throughout our land.
Eli Siegel is the philosopher to explain that “The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it.” This idea is fundamental to the Aesthetic Realism method, which has been enabling children of all backgrounds to learn successfully—including children who had been thought incapable of doing so. To like the world through knowing it is why we should learn the alphabet, find out about numbers, continents, atoms, history. To like the world is the purpose of everyone’s life. Meanwhile, humanity has lived for centuries with a system of economics completely opposed to that purpose.
The profit system has not been based on the fact that this world should belong rather equally to every child from birth so he or she can have a full chance to benefit from it. Profit economics has instead been based on contempt. The profit motive is the seeing of human beings in terms of: how much money can I get out of you?; how much labor can I squeeze from you while paying you as little as possible?; how much can I force a buyer to pay for my product, which she may need desperately?
Ethics, Unions, & America’s Children
In 1970 Eli Siegel explained that this contemptuous way of economics had failed after thousands of years. The profit system might be made to stumble on awhile, but it would never recover. The fundamental cause of its failure, he said, was the force of ethics working in history. For example: 1) People on all the continents know more, can produce more things, and so “there is much more competition...with American industry than there used to be.” 2) Unions, by the 1970s, had been so successful in their fight for decent wages—so successful in bringing people lives with dignity—that big profits for stockholders and bosses who don’t do the work could no longer be easily extracted from American workers.
The persons trying to keep the profit system going cannot undo the first of those factors. So they have been trying ferociously to reverse the second: there has been a vicious, steady effort to have workers be paid less and less, be made poorer and poorer. And to achieve this, one has to undermine, even extinguish, unions—because unions are the power which prevents workers from being swindled, kicked around, humiliated, impoverished, robbed.
Meanwhile, there are America’s children. They are literally abused day after day by those persons trying to impoverish the American people so as to maintain the profit system. Many children come to school hungry. Many don’t have warm coats for winter. Home (if a child has one) is often a place of economic deprivation—and the accompanying anger.
Then, there are the schools themselves. In recent decades, as traditional venues for profit-making have fared ill, persons have looked for new ways to use their fellow humans for private gain. Behold—that huge ethical achievement in human history, public education! And the profit-seekers thought, “There’s a whole new industry for us here!” The one reason for the enormous effort to privatize America’s public schools—and that includes through vouchers and through charter schools—is: to use the lives and minds of America’s children to make profit for a few individuals.
This use of public schools is related to the effort to privatize public sector work in various fields throughout America: to have public monies used—not for the American people, not to respectfully employ public sector workers—but to finance private enterprises. And through it all, again, a big aim is to undo unions so workers can be paid less and the money can go instead to some private-profit-maker.
I see the praise of the charter schools and voucher programs as one of the biggest snow jobs foisted on the American people. Part of the trickery is: you withhold funding from public schools so they’ll have big difficulties. Then you say: “See, these schools are flops! Public schools don’t work. Use taxpayer money instead for charter schools and voucher programs.” What the public schools need is better funding and the Aesthetic Realism teaching method. And, of course, we need a national economy based on justice, not profit.
For Education & Economics to Succeed
Through the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, children see that every subject has to do with them, because central to each item in the curriculum are opposites they themselves are trying to put together. For instance, high and low are in geography—and in our own mix-up about superiority and humility. Known and unknown are the very basis of algebra—and we are trying to make sense of how we’re known, yet so unknown, to ourselves. This magnificent Aesthetic Realism principle enables students to learn: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.”
The economy America needs is a oneness of opposites too. We and America’s schoolchildren need an economy that brings out the expression of each individual and is simultaneously fair to all people. We need an economy that is aesthetic, which also means ethical.
Published here are two short poems by Eli Siegel, of 1926 and 1929. They are related to the subject of Mr. Balchin’s article—history—because they have to do with time, and the fact that through it, reality can be liked. These very musical poems are impelled by the purpose Mr. Siegel had always: to see any object, any person, with justice that was deep and wide.