of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method
By Rosemary Plumstead
I was very
proud to give a presentation titled "The Success of the Aesthetic Realism
Teaching Method" on December 6th at the Hershey Lodge
and Convention Center. This method is based on the philosophy of Aesthetic
Realism, which was founded in 1941 by the greatly important educator, Eli Siegel.
Mr. Siegel explained that: "the purpose of education is to like the world." And he
provided the scientific means through which the world can be liked, in this principle: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the
aesthetic oneness of opposites."
When I learned of this method, after I had taught for three years and was close to burnt
out, I felt something like what Leuwenhoek felt when he saw microorganisms
in his laboratory for the first time: "Eureka!"
I teach science at Fiorello LaGuardia High School of the Arts in Manhattan to students
of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Many face very difficult situations: illness
at home, violence in their neighborhoods, great economic hardship. Every
day, I see young people in danger of using injustices they endure to feel
the world is a hateful place and that they should despise it. After the
recent terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, this temptation is even
for the world, Mr. Siegel showed, "the addition to self through the lessening
of something else," is the big interference with learning. It is also the
cause of prejudice and violence. It was massive contempt that caused the
horrific attack on September 11th.
I told the
persons present at the workshop that it is crucial that students and teachers
see that there is a difference between the way the world is made and how
it is run. It may not be run right or managed fairly, but science shows
it is made well.
the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, every fact in science gives solid
evidence that reality has a logical, even beautiful structure of opposites;
and when my students see through the opposites that with all the confusion,
even cruelty, in the world reality itself is made in a way they can honestly
respect, they want to learn and they do!
The Heart: An Organization of One and Many
Regents Biology to 9th graders, and I'll describe now part of the lesson
I gave on the heart at the convention. The first pair of opposites that
we discussed was one and many. When students first see a diagram of the
heart, a sudden terror can descend upon them. "Do I have to learn all these
parts?" they ask. When they see how the heart is one organ the size of
their fist, and that each of its many parts the chambers, the valves,
the two separate sides work for ONE purpose, to get blood to the 60 trillion
cells in the body, they are seeing an organization in the heart, a structure
of opposites that they can respect. Because of this, they see the heart
and learning about it as more friendly to themselves.
the opposites, the Aesthetic Realism teaching method kindly and gracefully
relates the subject students are studying to themselves. I told those present
a question I've asked my students about how one and many are in themselves:
"Are you the same person on Saturday night with your friends as you are
singing in the choir on Sunday morning?" "What do you think my students
said?" I asked. I then asked the teachers: "Do you use the same mind in
studying a scientific principle that you use knowing your spouse?" People
often feel that as they go from one aspect of their lives to another, they
are not the same person. The heart, however, with its many parts and activities
is magnificently unified as it transports blood.
The Chambers of the Heart, or,
a Oneness of Assertion and Yielding; Strength and Gentleness
themselves put together relaxation and contraction, yielding and assertion.
As the atria fill, they relax and expand, yielding to the incoming blood.
But the same chambers then contract and send blood surging into the ventricles,
which yield and then assert themselves in turn with even greater force.
is trying to put these opposites together in the classroom, and I told
those present how I have not always had assertion and yielding in the best
relation. For instance, in the past, I'd notice two students talking in
the midst of a lesson several days in a row and let it go. Then one day
they would talk again and I would then clamp down upon them only to find
out that one person was asking another for a pen or a piece of paper. This
is not a good relation of yielding and assertion. The chambers of the heart
show that we can assert AND yield for the same purpose and when we do,
we can like ourselves.
out to the teachers a fact that I love the right ventricle and the left
ventricle have different musculature. The right ventricle has less muscle;
it's thinner than the left, because it is sending blood to the lungs. The
left ventricle has more musculature because it has to propel the blood
to the whole body. Because of this musculature, they contract at the same
time, with differing amounts of force. The right ventricle is pumping the
blood a short distance to the lungs' delicate tissues, and so it has to
contract gently. The left ventricle contracts with great strength in order
to send the blood into the far reaches of the body.
show that the world which the heart comes from and represents is made
by reality with a beautiful fittingness of structure and function.The teachers
were affected to hear that if the right ventricle pumped with the same
force as the left, we would drown in our own plasma.
in another way the structure of the valves is also a oneness of delicacy
and strength. Near the end of the presentation I read this quote about
the valves from "The Incredible Machine," by the National Geographic Society:
"Valves as thin as tissue paper
and sturdier than iron hinges open and close with each heartbeat, controlling
the bloods passage through the heart."
We can learn
from the heart how we want to be. We're hoping to feel that when we're
forceful or strong, we are also kind because we have the same purpose
in both: to encourage another person, make him or her stronger. Teenagers
are aching to feel these opposites can be one in themselves.
The Drama of Separation and Junction
One of the
awesome feats of the heart, we learned, is that it has two separate paths
of circulation passing through it simultaneously. This can be very confusing
to students and hard for them to learn. One path, by which blood is sent
from the heart to the lungs, is called the pulmonary circulation; the other,
by which blood is sent from the heart to the rest of the body, is called
the systemic circulation.
these two sides ONLY separate, or are they also joined? The heart is wrapped
in one pericardium. They are also wrapped in one muscle that makes for
a thrilling junction these two sides beat in synchrony with each other.
They are separate AND joined. Isn't this what we want to feel that we
are separate, distinct individuals and yet we want also to be joined rightly
to other things and people?
lessons such as these, my students' minds become keener and deeper. They
pass standardized tests with flying colors. They become kinder as they
like the world more and see their relation to it and to other people. I
am particularly proud of the fact that my students, who came to LaGuardia
HS to study a particular art form dance, drama, visual arts, vocal or
instrumental music come to respect and love science more. They see that
the beauty of art and science are not in separate worlds but that through
the opposites, they are related.
three decades of successful results including with hundreds of students
who thought they would never learn science I say with bedrock conviction:
the Aesthetic Realism teaching method can end the failure in America's
classrooms! This teaching method is being studied in the bi-monthly workshop
for teachers of every grade level "The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel
As Teaching Method."
For more information you can visit the website of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation