NOTE: In this, the second part of her paper, Mrs. Michael illustrates the meaning for education of the principle by Eli Siegel which she quotes in the first part: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." As you will see, Mrs. Michael writes about the opposites of separation and junction—and how children learn to read.
Separation and Junction; or,
In kindergarten the children learn the letters and sounds of the alphabet. In the first grade they learn how these separate letters come together to make words. This is technically called blending, and children often have a difficult time with it. I think this has to do with how children feel they are separate and jammed together with things; they feel they don’t fit in the world and also that things fight with each other rather than add to each other. For example, life dramas occur in the classroom, and there can be cruelty, as children come together and decide which friends are included or excluded from a group, or who can or cannot share a candy or play ball in the yard at recess.
How Letters Become New Words
In order to have the children see letters and sounds joining together as more friendly, we looked at how objects in the classroom put together the opposites of separation and junction, the same opposites that we have to put together when we read a word. The first object we looked at was our hand. I asked the children to hold up their hands and to spread their fingers apart and then to put them together. I asked, "Is your hand both separate and together? Can you do many things because of the way the world made your hands? What would happen if all of our fingers were stuck together and couldn’t come apart?" "We couldn’t hold a pencil," Freddie said. "We wouldn’t learn to write our names," said Maria. Then I asked, "What would happen if all of our fingers were separate and couldn’t come together?" "I couldn’t eat," Danielle said. "I would keep dropping things," said Richard. "I couldn’t play ball," said Manuel. "Do you think the world was kind in making our hands in such a way that we could do many things? Are we more ourselves because of all the things we can do with our hands—play ball, write our name?" "Yes!" they said.
I told the children that like our hands, "we are separate and together with the world all the time. Every time we breathe, is the world outside of us in the form of air becoming part of us, making us stronger? Every time you eat you are taking what is outside of you, food, and making it part of you so you can grow and become stronger. And when you learn to read are you taking what is outside of you, words, and making them part of your mind so you can have a strong and bigger mind?" The children were very quiet and had wondering looks on their faces as they began to see that there was a choice they need to make in order to have their minds grow. They had to want to know the world.
As we looked at how other objects— a pair of scissors, a puzzle, a book—put together the opposites of separation and junction, the children were very excited to see they had a structure that made sense. This was important because as they saw familiar objects they had already taken for granted with new, likable meaning, this made them trust more the possible friendliness of the new in other areas, including words. When it came time in the Spector Reading Program for the children to learn how to blend letters into words, I told them that they were going to take separate letters and see how they could come together and help each other to make new words that they already spoke.
One word the children liked learning to read is cat. I put the individual letters c - a on the board and then put them together ca, and then added t, and the children repeated the sounds the letters made. I saw the children mouthing the letter sounds and then suddenly Rayshawn, who had had a most difficult time focusing his attention, shouted in pleasurable astonishment, "Cat, that’s cat, that’s cat!" And then there were shouts of recognition as the other children also recognized the separate letters as one word standing for that lovable, furry animal they all knew.
The children then copied the word cat on their own blackboards. I told the children, "When you read or write a word like cat, the letters which are different from each other, separate from each other, help each other and something good happens, they make a new word. As we work together and learn about the world, how do we want to be with each other? Do we want to help each other learn or do we want to stop each other from learning by not listening?" Rowena answered, "We gotta help each other so we could learn."
It was a thrilling victory when the children were able to read their first ten words, mat, sat cat, fat, rat, hat, pat, can, ran, fan. "How do you feel now these words are inside your minds?" I asked them. Nellie shouted, "My mind is getting bigger!" Many other children proudly said they felt their minds were also getting bigger.
They continued to want to learn new words every day and they were very excited when they learned to read their first book about a cat named Max. As the year progressed and we learned more about how the opposites of separation and junction also explained addition and subtraction, how our Solar System is made, and how life began on Earth, the children came to have a big feeling about how the world has a sensible structure and can honestly be liked more.
I respect these young children for how much their dullness of response to the world changed to a vivacious excitement about learning. For example Edward, who at the beginning of the year was so withdrawn and kept to himself, speaking to no one around him, came to love reading, which he said was his favorite subject. In the morning when we came up from the auditorium, before he put his clothes away and unpacked his book bag, he would excitedly ask me, "What new letters will we learn about today?" And he would show me a book and proudly say, "Look, I know what that says!" I respected how quickly he was learning to read more difficult books on his own, and how other children in the class looked up to him as he helped them with their math and reading, and he came to have friends. Children who were very slow at the beginning of the year and in need of constant one-on-one attention in order to keep up with the class, blossomed. They became more independent, they participated enthusiastically and learned to read and do math. Until the last day of school my students wanted to continue to have lessons and learn more. Every opportunity they had, even during free time, they wanted to read books.
The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is the birthright of every child because it brings out a child’s true intelligence. It is what every child, parent, and teacher deserves to know now!
Note: Monique Michael was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Mrs. Michael began her study of Aesthetic Realism in 1979, attends the biweekly workshop for teachers, "The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel as Teaching Method," and has taught elementary school in East Harlem and the Lower East Side. She is author of the landmark article, "Children Learn to Read through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method" and she and her husband, photographer and Maritime Captain Allan Michael, have written important articles showing how Aesthetic Realism is the knowledge that can end racism.