The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.  Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel.
NUMBER 1509. - March 6, 2002
ISSN 0882-3731
 
Every Child's True Intelligence

Dear Unknown Friends:

     We publish an article on the great Aesthetic Realism teaching method. It is by Sally Ross, science teacher at Norman Thomas High School, Manhattan, who presented it as a paper at a public seminar in October titled "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Brings Out Every Child's True Intelligence - & Education Succeeds!" I introduce it through a dialogue between a husband and wife in the year 2048.

     WIFE. You know, Ray, sometimes I ask myself: How could it be that in the last decades of the 20th century and even at the beginning of the 21st, the Aesthetic Realism teaching method existed - the method that's standard now in the schools of the world - yet it was kept from most of humanity by the press? We learn about that fact as part of history. But it's still deeply shocking to me that for years the press wouldn't report on the beautiful, kind success of the Aesthetic Realism method - even though New York City teachers who used it documented its success, in public seminars year after year at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. There was racism in the schools then; there was tremendous anger - students even used weapons on each other; and many, many were unable to learn. Yet as everyone knows, the Aesthetic Realism method changes those things. Fifty years ago in the classrooms where it was used, children learned; their prejudice and anger changed and they had respect for each other. But the press wouldn't report it; so most children didn't meet this method. It's just as though millions of children were dying of thirst and the press kept water from them!

     HUSBAND. It is still shocking, Delia. But 50 years ago persons of the press wanted to maintain their feeling of superiority to people and the world. They wanted to hold on to that thing which, we've learned from Aesthetic Realism, makes for injustice of every kind: contempt. They resented, in fact felt threatened by, Aesthetic Realism's respect for reality and people. And in Aesthetic Realism itself they met something they couldn't feel superior to, something they needed to learn from about every aspect of the world including their own lives. This made them furious. Also - as horrible as anything - they were angry at the complete honesty of Eli Siegel; they felt it showed them up. Along with the press, various persons who thought they owned the educational establishment resented Aesthetic Realism's success and grandeur: they were in competition with it.

     WIFE. As we talk, I see conceit as more hideous even than I thought it was. Out of sheer conceit, those press and establishment people thought it preferable for millions of children to suffer, than that they themselves show the respect they had for Aesthetic Realism! It was in the last years of the 20th century, wasn't it, and the start of the 21st, that the change began - that Aesthetic Realism and its teaching method became more and more known?

     HUSBAND. Yes, thank God!

     WIFE. I'm so grateful the awful time is over and our children are learning, as we did, what Mr. Siegel showed: the purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it!

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  ..  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
     I leave this conversation to comment on the poem by Mr. Siegel published here. It is a sonnet - musical, beautiful. And in the strictness of that 14-line form, we find a composition of two afternoons: one of the past, with a bleak sky; one of the present, with a blue sky; and the lively shout of a child, meeting the bleak sky. All this is in a park - likely the park near Jane Street through which Mr. Siegel walked often, looking at the world with his always-kind eyes and mind. 
- Ellen Reiss, Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism

                How Fine This All
                    By Eli Siegel 

It was a stillness in the little park.
An aeroplane was heard, for it was near.
There was remembrance of one's being here
A coldish day, in afternoon and dark.
The day's strewn paper's worthy of remark:
The way a child would suddenly appear,
And have his yell profoundly interfere
With sky up there: through sound, less calm, less stark.

What matters sky then lumpish and away.
How right it was that yell was present, too,
If sky's great show is absent, let one shout:
This moment's sky is of a bluer day.
Our space is showing all that it can do.
How fine this all we surely must find out.


 
Bringing Out Intelligence
By Sally Ross

As a New York City teacher for 21 years, I have seen that the way Aesthetic Realism explains intelligence is scientific and enormously kind. "Intelligence," Eli Siegel wrote, "is the ability of a self to become at one with the new." When students see, through the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, that the subjects they study show the world can be liked, their intelligence grows and they learn!

     I had thought intelligence was measured by IQ tests and report card marks. I went after high grades with avidity, and got them. But because I was using knowledge not to care for the world but to be superior, I felt I was a faker. I read very little, no subject held my interest long, I felt my mind was getting duller. The reason is: my contempt made me unintelligent. It also made me insufferable as a teacher: impatient, condescending, and cold to my students. I never would have survived in the classroom had it not been for the Aesthetic Realism criticism of my contempt. Now, I am proud to tell, through a lesson on evolution I taught last year at Norman Thomas High School, how this magnificent teaching method brought out my students' intelligence.

They Doubted Their Intelligence

As the semester began I saw that many of the 9th and 10th graders in my Living Environment classes were painfully unsure of their ability to learn. Louis* told me science was his worst subject: "No matter how much I study, it never gets through - I don't pass." Tina and Hector asked me not to call on them. Chris said he was afraid his mind just didn't work; he always failed tests.

     "An Aesthetic Realism Manifesto about Education" explains:

Behind every "learning difficulty" is the feeling that the world cannot be liked. If a [student] sees the world as an enemy, why should he take inside him letters, equations, coming from that world? [TRO 703]
Most of my students' families - from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama - are struggling to make ends meet. One girl told me her father was in prison. It was urgent for these young people, already cynical, to see that the facts of science stand for a world that can honestly be liked, that is related to themselves. The means is this principle, stated by Mr. Siegel: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."

Evolution: Reality Is Sameness & Change

The lesson I tell of is part of a unit on organic evolution, the process of change that occurs in species over time. I have come to see that evolution is a thrilling tribute to the fact that there is coherence in the world, because all living things, no matter how different, are related. Being able to see this was crucial for my students, who, like many people, were suspicious of what was different. They generally associated only with those of the same ethnic background, and would look scornfully at students from other countries, sometimes rolling their eyes and snickering when one tried to answer a question.

     I read the class these sentences from an essay I care for very much, by Eli Siegel:

Evolution ... presents this world as a study in sameness and change. These two aspects of evolution imply that the world, representing sameness and change as one, can be seen as more beautiful or more likable. [TRO 208]
One way, I said, that evolution has been traced is through what is called the "record of the fossils"; and we would begin by looking at the development of the horse through pictures arising from fossils. I showed them a diagram with three animals in it and asked what they observed about the legs.

     "They're all legs," said Chris, "but the sizes are different - and so are the toes!" The animal at the bottom was the eohippus, the horselike ancestor that lived about 60 million years ago. The middle one was the merychippus; it dates back 26 million years. Seeing it, Louis said excitedly, "The middle toe is getting mad big, and the side ones are sticking out!" The picture at the top was equus, the modern horse, which first appeared 2 million years ago and stands 5 to 6 feet tall. "It has just one big hoof," said Jeffrey in amazement. "Aren't we seeing change and sameness in the evolution of the horse?" I asked. Yes, they said.

     In the essay I quoted from, Mr. Siegel writes: "Evolution implies that the organic or living world is going for something." I asked, "What do you think these changes in the horse's legs are going for?" Alex answered thoughtfully, "Maybe the horse could run better with one big hoof instead of smaller toes." "That's right," I said. "Hooves can bear more weight than toes, and, with the help of longer legs, the horse was able to run faster and greater distances. One of the things we can see in studying evolution is that there is a force in reality working over millions of years to have the horse and every other species adapt to its environment; that is, to be in the best, most efficient relation with the world it finds itself in."

     Learning how sameness and change have worked together to make that noble and lovable animal, the horse, come into its evolutionary own, excited my students very much. These opposites are painfully apart in their lives. They have felt stuck, bored; also tossed about, tumultuous. Louis, for instance, had changed homes, living with his mother, then his aunt, then his grandmother, within a few months. Students also use the way adults change, are hypocritical, to hate the world. And they feel that the way they themselves are changeable and moody makes no sense. Seeing these opposites make sense in evolution is not just pleasing, it is vital, because it means the world did a better job than they thought and deserves another chance!

Bones: The Same & Different

Scientists now generally agree, through the study of DNA, that all branches of living creatures - felines, canines, the apes, even plants - evolved from common ancestors. I love this idea; it's beautiful!

     I projected a diagram showing the bone structure of a whale's flipper, a horse's foreleg, a bat's wing, a human arm, and a bird's wing. Aracelis said, "They all have one bone at the top and end with smaller bones!" "The whale and bat have fingers kind of like ours, but they're different lengths," added Tory. Hector, who had earlier asked not to be called on, said, "The horse is the only one that doesn't have anything like fingers - but," he suddenly added, "it used to have toes!" Sandra said, "We must all have a common ancestor - cool!"

     I asked the class why they thought these similar bone structures were also different. We talked about the fact that the animals use their limbs for different purposes: swimming, running, flying, grasping objects.

     These limbs are examples of homologous organs, organs that have similar anatomical structure though they may have different functions. Homologous organs are a standard part of high school biology texts. But through the Aesthetic Realism method, a student sees that these organs make a one of sameness and difference, which are also central to every person's life. How we see these opposites makes us kind or unkind.

     I asked my students, "As you go through the day, do you see other people as more like you or more different?" They said, "Oh, different." This, I told them, goes on all the time; yet the seeing of others as only different from us, with ourselves superior, is contempt. Contempt starts quietly within each of us, but it is the cause of all the horrors in history, including racism. I told them I learned from Aesthetic Realism that the first thing in kindness is to see our kinship with other people and things, which means seeing sameness within difference. Studying homologous organs is a means to this. Their scientific and ethical message is: Don't be too quick to see yourself as unrelated; look more deeply and you'll see your kinship with others, human and not human.

Evolution Says, "Hail, Relation!"

Additional evidence that very different organisms have evolved from common ancestors is in their embryos. In a diagram of 8 different vertebrate embryos, row 1 showed them in their earliest stages. "Can you tell whom these embryos belong to?" I asked. No one could - they look so alike. We then looked at how the embryos change as they continue developing. In row 2, some of their shapes change; leg buds appear in some; ears in others. The late embryos in row 3 are much easier to tell apart. Then we found out what these embryos were: a fish, salamander, tortoise, chick, pig, calf, rabbit, human.

     My students loved looking at this diagram and seeing, for instance, that gill slits in the fish become gills, but in humans they become eustachian tubes. And while each embryo begins with a 2-chambered heart, the fish retains it; yet in amphibians and most reptiles the heart develops into 3 chambers; and in birds and mammals it differentiates further into four. "Somehow," writes David Kraus in Concepts in Modern Biology, "embryos seem to retain a hereditary memory of some steps from their past history."

     "Do you mean to say," Chris asked with astonishment, "that all living things, not just vertebrates, are related?" That's what evolution shows! For homework I asked my students to write about how they felt seeing that we are related to animals. "I feel good knowing this," Yadira wrote - "it makes me feel that it doesn't matter where you come from or where you live, we are so similar to each other." Hector wrote, "I like having the same structure as others; I feel I'm part of something." Mandy wrote, "I feel like this means we were all created equally in a way and that we all come from the same place, meant to interact in peace."

     On the Regents exam, 89% of these students passed the graduation requirement for science. They also became kinder, brought good things out of each other. For instance, Alex Diaz, who earlier had made fun of Tin Xu Huang's name, began to speak to her, asking respectful questions about what her life was like in China.

     As the crisis in education has accelerated - as teachers are leaving the system in record numbers and more students than ever are failing - the Aesthetic Realism method stands like a beacon of light and hope, as it has for over 25 years. When it becomes the standard, kind basis of education, the true intelligence of every child will flourish!
 


*The students' names 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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