|Lesson on Blood
Aesthetic Realism Teaching
By Rosemary A. Plumstead
Author's Note: The following
description is from the website of the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism
Foundation (http://www.aestheticrealism.org): There is no more
important news than the fact that in classrooms where teachers use the
Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, learning succeeds and students become
truly kinder to each other.
For more than 25 years New York City public school
teachers have tested this method — and we have seen many, many students,
including young people who have been horribly deprived by the unjust
economy, learn to read, learn arithmetic, history, art and science with
excitement and ease — and stay in school. And teachers have described
their results and shared their knowledge in seminars, professional
conferences, and articles since the 1970s.
It is in these definitive principles that Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism and the greatest educator in history,
gave teachers the basis for this method:
(1) "The purpose of education is to like the world" (Self and World, p.
(2) Contempt — "the lessening of what is different from
oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it" — is the greatest
interference to learning and the fundamental cause of all injustice.
(3) "The world, art, and self explain each other: each
is the aesthetic oneness of opposites;" this magnificent principle is the
means to understand every subject — reading, writing, mathematics,
history, science — to see its beauty, and relate it to students'
Every Fact Has MeaningBefore studying Aesthetic Realism, while I wanted my students
to learn, I myself didn't see the facts I was teaching as having large
meaning and excitement. It was no wonder the young people I taught were
bored or furious most of the time, and that I too was frustrated and
Now, after 26 years of using it in my classroom, I am
proud to say the Aesthetic Realism teaching method succeeds because it
gracefully ends the mind deadening rift between fact and meaning. When my
students — including those who had repeatedly failed, or who were bored
and cynical — see that facts we study in science show the world has an
exciting, sensible structure and that all this is related to themselves,
they see the subject as having big meaning. And they learn!
The means is the following principle, stated by Eli
Siegel, which I regard as the single most important sentence in all
educational methodology: "The world, art, and self explain
each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."
This is the basis of every one of the biology lessons I
teach at LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and the Performing Arts in
New York City, including the one I tell of now, which I gave to three
honors classes of ninth graders last fall. It is the grandeur of this
method that through it not only do failing students succeed, but that
students who seemed distressed, angry — even cruel — also change. That
second aspect is what I will mainly speak of here.
The students in my classes were from different
neighborhoods and backgrounds. Some were fairly affluent, but many were
from families struggling to make ends meet. Like other young people in
programs for the "gifted" and "talented," many had used their facility to
learn facts for an exam and get praises for it. They were jaded; they felt
they knew everything and it didn't amount to much. Meanwhile, there were
some who, though placed in an honors class, failed in the first marking
period and were worried.
In September as I looked out at these young people, I saw
many faces that were outwardly cool, even expressionless. Then there were
students like Jeremy (the students' names have been changed), a very
bright young man who constantly tried to outdo others. When Anthony, who
sat next to him, would start to speak, Jeremy would laugh and make fun of
him unmercifully. But right after, Jeremy would be in such a muddle that
he was literally unable to answer the simplest question.
Kelly and Randall — two art students — rarely looked up
during lessons because they were constantly drawing in their notebooks.
When other students would comment, Kelly often sneered, looking at Randall
and rolling her eyes in disgust. Meanwhile, this young woman who acted so
sure of herself was so ill-at-ease with other students that she refused to
go to the lunchroom. Her mother told me with great concern that when Kelly
came home from school she would be tearful, not want to eat, and be unable
In the two years that I have taught honors classes, the
number of students I have heard of who are being treated for sleep
disorders, who see therapists and take anti-depressants, has affected me
When students excel in school and use this to have less
feeling for everything including other people; when they think they have
conquered the world by conquering a subject, they are having contempt. And
the result is large emptiness and agitation. I wanted these students to
see that the facts of science are alive, meaningful, and are evidence that
the world can be respected — that they themselves were not in some
exclusive world where they could feel superior yet also be so pained.
And I knew the Aesthetic Realism teaching method was the
means to let them see this.
Reality's Opposites Are in Our Blood
As part of our study of the human transport system, there
is a lesson about blood. I asked them: "When you think of blood, what
comes to your mind?"
"Fear," Jamal said; "I think of being injured."
"I get faint when I see blood," Milagros added.
"My hope," I said, "is that the more we know about blood,
the more meaning it will have for us."
I then read the following from The Incredible Machine,
published by the National Geographic Society:
"The body's river retains an age-old tie to Earth's
waters.... In our blood flows the same balance of minerals and salts that
existed in ancient Cambrian seas, a heritage half a billion years old."
"That's astounding," Monique said.
I asked, "What gives these facts such meaning? Do we feel
that something going on inside us, in our own intimate circulatory system,
has a relation to the earth and seas outside of us?"
Abdul said with excitement: "That's really something — the
minerals in our blood are still the same as a half a billion years ago!"
"How does that make you feel?" I asked the class.
Kelly was really attentive now, and said with a smile,
"Old, but good."
"Does it make you feel proud?" I asked.
"Yes," Nicki said. "It means we go back very far, and I
I asked the class, "Does this fact show that in every
person there is an amazing relation of past and present? After all, it
took millions of years for reality to get to each one of us sitting here."
Already, through the opposites of what's inside the self
and the outside world, and the present and past, there was a different
feeling in the classroom about facts, and also about one's fellow human
beings. And as the lesson proceeded, my students became much more
We then studied this fact: all life, beginning as one
celled microscopic organisms, arose in the primal seas. It was easy for
food, minerals, oxygen, and wastes to pass into and out of these single
celled organisms. But as organisms came to be more complex, multicellular,
it was necessary to get nutrients and oxygen to interior cells and remove
wastes from them. We learned that "an inner stream evolved to nourish
every cell." That "inner stream," originating in the primal seas, was now
snugly inside the body, and over time became our highly developed
transport system, with 60 thousand miles of vessels carrying blood to 60
trillion cells! My students who had earlier been impassive and bored were
now filled with wonder. Learning was becoming a great pleasure.
As my students saw those opposites of inside and outside,
past and present, in blood, they began to realize that they had a relation
to the beginnings of the world and to people they had never met. The
realization countered a tremendous feeling of snobbishness that in turn
hurt them so much — of the false way they had gotten their distinction,
through feeling superior and essentially unrelated to other people.
I told them I learned from Aesthetic Realism that the
world is the other half of ourselves. Our study of blood showed that this
is not only a beautiful idea but also a tangible fact.
Red Blood Cells: Stability &
In The Incredible Machine, we read the following
about red blood cells, or erythrocytes:
"Launched into the bloodstream, each (red) cell will live
only four months ... before returning to the bone marrow to die. In the
second it takes to turn a page of this book, we will each lose about 3
million red cells. Yet during that second the marrow will have produced
the same number."
Kelly and Randall were listening carefully, no longer
drawing in their notebooks. And Ronald said as he turned a page of his
notes, "I just lost and gained 3 million red blood cells. That's
I asked, "Do you think this is a thrilling instance of how
the body has stability and change, old and new?"
"Yes," Jeremy said. "Red blood cells are dying and being
born every second — that's change — but the number stays constant."
Young people, like teachers, can feel that these opposites
of stability and change are painfully separate in their lives. There can
be terrifying financial instability at home as a parent suddenly loses a
job; some students have lived in different foster homes; others live with
one parent during the week and another on the weekend. And young people
feel they themselves are volatile. They can change moods suddenly. These
same students can feel the world is boring, too stable , and that their
lives are filled with routine and they're stuck.
Seeing how beautifully stability and change work together
as red blood cells expire and new ones are born, my students were very
I asked, "Do you think we see the persons close to us as
having what the red blood cells have — a constant relation of something
new and surprising, and something old and familiar?"
"No," said Jeremy, who had earlier mocked other students
and felt so dull. "I think we see them as 'same old, same old.'"
I asked, "Is it true that every day, like the bloodstream,
a person adds to himself or herself new thoughts and feelings about the
"It's true!" Angel said. He had been failing at the
beginning of the year, and his mother had told me she was very concerned
about his being so withdrawn and losing interest in school. This was the
first time he had participated in class.
As the term progressed, the students changed dramatically.
Jeremy stopped mocking Anthony, and began to encourage others rather than
ridicule them. Kelly started listening, became much more at ease, and the
sneering episodes between her and Randall stopped. Her mother told me
she's so grateful that Kelly no longer comes home crying, is sleeping much
better, and has really changed. In January, 100 percent of the class
passed the course.
Jeremy wrote that because of the lessons on blood, "I look
at other human beings and I think, 'They have the same thing I have. I
even treat people nicer... because I care about people more. They have
something that is so important in their bodies.'"
I want the students, teachers, and parents of America to
know this beautiful, logical, kind teaching method.
Rosemary Plumstead teaches science at LaGuardia H.S. in
New York City. She is an Aesthetic Realism consultant and one of the instructors
of The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method workshop. Mrs.
Plumstead studies in classes taught by Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of
Aesthetic Realism. Portions of this article first appeared in The Right of
Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, issue no. 1457 and are reprinted with permission.
REALISM WORKSHOPS / SEMINARS
The following is information from the Aesthetic Realism
Foundation website, about workshops on this teaching method, taught by
Barbara Allen, Arnold Perey, Patricia Martone, and Rosemary
Plumstead, and about upcoming seminars:
Teachers, and persons who are studying to teach, are
welcome to attend the workshops and seminars for educators at the
Aesthetic Realism Foundation. And for those who are at a distance, in the
US or abroad, there are two other possibilities:
1. You can apply to have individual consultations with All
For Education via telephone. When a teacher has met the prerequisites, a
consultation can be given soon after.
2. You and several other teachers in your school or area
can join together and have a series of telephone conferences with All For
Education. These would, in effect, be workshops via telephone.
seminars take place at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism
Foundation, 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012, (212) 777-4490;