NUMBER  1378. - September 1, 1999;
Aesthetic Realism was founded by Eli Siegel in 1941 
The Most Important News about Education
  Dear Unknown Friends:

     The article by Lois Mason printed here contains the most important, most urgent, kindest, and most beautiful news about education that exists in the world. Ms. Mason is a New York City high school teacher of social studies, and an Aesthetic Realism consultant. And this paper by her was first presented at a public seminar at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation titled "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Brings Out Every Child's True Intelligence — and Education Succeeds!" 

     This is the teaching method which — at a time of massive educational failure — consistently and magnificently enables students to LEARN: students from kindergarten on; students of all backgrounds; including students whom the viciously unjust economy has deprived and choked. At a time when ethnic prejudice and violence horribly abound, this is the teaching method which has students truly respect each other — value the lives of people different from themselves. 

     This summer, Ms. Mason and three other teachers who use the Aesthetic Realism method — Leila Rosen, Ann Richards, and Christopher Balchin, of Norman Thomas High School — took part in a conference in Washington, DC, sponsored jointly by the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Council for the Social Studies. The conference's purpose was to find ways of integrating the two fields. And Ms. Mason and Ms. Rosen, Ms. Richards and Mr. Balchin presented a two-hour workshop titled "The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method: A Thrilling Understanding of How English and Social Studies Are Related." The Aesthetic Realism method is based on Mr. Siegel's showing of what the purpose of education is — "to like the world through knowing it." And it is based on this principle, stated by Mr. Siegel, which identifies the central, living relation of any subject to any other, to everything else in the world, and to the self of every person: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."

     For example, at the Washington workshop, Ms. Richards and Mr. Balchin showed that separation and junction are central in both the comma and the history of Japan. A comma, like the one I just used, simultaneously separates words or phrases or clauses, and joins them. Japan was simultaneously distinct from and joined with other nations — China, Korea — as it learned from them; yet it has also gone fiercely for the separation that is aloof superiority to other peoples, and for the awful junction with them which is conquest and exploitation. Then Ms. Mason and Ms. Rosen showed how large and small are one, both in a map (which makes the world smaller so it can be understood in its largeness), and in the plot, power, and humor of a noted short story by Gogol, "The Nose." 

The Opposites Are in Us

Separation and junction, large and small are pressing, bewildering, often tormenting matters in the feelings of everyone. A girl now in 10th grade can feel deeply separate from people, even as she is joined with them in an active social life — and she doesn't know why. And she can go from feeling she's big — in fact, better and more important than others — to feeling she doesn't come to much, she's small. When she sees that the opposites, the stuff her life is concerned with, are at the heart of the subjects she studies — and make sense there, make for beauty — she has new hope about herself, likes the world more, and takes the facts into her mind as a friend. 

     Not only does the Aesthetic Realism teaching method naturally integrate all subjects by showing what they have in common at their very center, the opposites; not only does it enable a student to feel every subject is related to him or her; but this method is also the effective combatant of contempt. Mr. Siegel is the philosopher to explain that contempt is (1) the chief interference with our ability to learn, and (2) the cause of cruelty. Contempt is "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Contempt makes all the opposites in us be awry. For instance, it is our — or a nation's or a 10th-grader's — making ourselves large by making other things and people small. Then, because we've been unjust, we feel nervous and small ourselves. 

     When a student sees through the facts in a math, science, English, history class that reality is made well — it is the oneness of opposites — he doesn't want to hurt the world. He doesn't want to hurt people different from him, who stand for the world. At the Washington conference, teachers from across America loved the Aesthetic Realism teaching method. They were thrilled, as one teacher commented, that ethics was not something tacked on: it was within the subjects themselves! 

The Right to Be Intelligent

Ms. Mason writes of intelligence, a subject about which there has been so much cruelty. Eli Siegel was beautiful on this subject. No person respected the minds of people more. And his respect was the same as his strict science and logic. In his early essay "The Equality of Man" (Modern Quarterly, Dec. 1923), he wrote with passionate exactitude: 
    Mind needs nourishment, care and training all by itself .... And the fact is plain enough that millions and millions of people ... have not got this mind's nourishment, care and training. Their lives were forced to be led so, to get food enough for their stomachs, was all that they could do .... Men have not had an equal chance to be as actively powerful as they might be. And if they had been given an equal chance to use all the powers they had at birth, they would be equal.
     Mr. Siegel's own intelligence, scholarship, and kindness were the greatest in the world. Instead of press persons' and others' resenting this fact, resenting his honesty and their need to learn so much from him — every human being should see Mr. Siegel's greatness as a personal achievement for ourselves. He shows the beautiful possibilities of humanity — our humanity. He shows how big and fine this human self of ours can be. The three very short poems printed here are playful in their technique, their rhyming. But they are about that related, deep, and worthy-of-respect world for which Mr. Siegel fought and which he loved so courageously. 

    3 Short Poems by Eli Siegel
    Every Historical Time

    Every historical time 
    Can be seen to chime 
    With every other historical time. 

    The Kings of England

    The kings 
    Of England were subjects of whisperings, 
    The contents of which 
    We don't even now know. 
    Whisperings have contents.

    Real Crisis

    And artifice 
    Are helpless 
    Against a real crisis.

Their True Intelligence
By Lois Mason

For 25 years I have seen the Aesthetic Realism teaching method bring out the intelligence of students as nothing else can. Learning how reality's opposites — opposites they themselves are trying to put together — are in the events of history, has students be excited by knowledge, learn, and remember what they learn! 

     Mr. Siegel has defined intelligence as "the ability of a self to become at one with the new." I had used the fact that I got high scores on standard intelligence tests to feel superior to other people. I used what I already knew to be impressive, and less and less wanted to value the new. For example, though I liked French, I dropped it when I got only an 80, and I didn't take physics because I was sure I'd fail. Though I acted confident, I felt I was a faker. 

     My spurious notion of my intellectual superiority affected my teaching. I would sarcastically belittle students for incorrect answers. And when I didn't know the answer, I often said, "You don't have to know that. It's not important." By the end of my second year, I hated teaching. 

     I am very fortunate that at this time I met Aesthetic Realism. I learned that contempt is the greatest diminisher of intelligence; and I learned there is something so much more mind-enhancing: to know and be affected by as much of reality as possible. I began to see, to my happy surprise, that I needed to and could learn from my students. I became much more sure of myself, and interested in things I'd once ignorantly disdained — including other people's feelings. 

American History & the Opposites

I tell now of an American History class I taught to summer school students at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, most of whom had failed the course before. This lesson was about causes of the American Revolution. And it brought out my students' intelligence, because they saw that For and Against — crucial opposites in their own lives and feelings — were in happenings of more than two hundred years ago; and seeing this made them able to welcome new facts and retain them. 

     We read in our textbook, The Americans, by Jordan, Greenblatt, and Bowes, that Great Britain passed laws imposing on the American colonists high taxes for imported goods: the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, which taxed printed materials, and the Townshend Acts, which taxed glass, paint, paper, tea. This was for the British government's making profit and against the welfare of the colonists. "That's not fair!" said one student, Al Salzo.* The colonists didn't think so either, and protested by boycotting British goods, smuggling, demonstrating at customs houses, and writing letters to newspapers. 

     I explained that what we were seeing in the British government of the 1760s was contempt. Contempt is always a hurtful relation of opposites; in this case, for and against. I said, "We can ask whether these opposites are in us. Have we ever felt, like the British government, that the way to be for ourselves is to be against and lessen other things or people?" "Yes — my little brother," said Esteban courageously. Emily Johnson was thoughtful, and then said, "I did something against my best friend. I got a boyfriend and I acted like I didn't know her." 

     The students were excited to see that the same opposites were in the colonists' feelings — in a much truer relation. The colonists were fiercely against those taxes because they were for the rights of Englishmen. They were Englishmen; and taxes imposed by a Parliament in which they were not represented violated their rights. The resounding cry that traveled through the hills and valleys of colonial America was: "Taxation without representation is tyranny!" 

     I asked, "Were the men who used their minds and bodies to be against these taxes — Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Dickinson — for what men, women, and children in Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania deserved?" Definitely yes, my students said! And I asked, "Do you think we can learn from American history how to have these opposites in a better relation in ourselves?" On this hot, humid summer day, my students were clearly interested, taking notes, excited about history. "What happened next?" asked Esteban. 

The Boston Tea Party

We learned that in 1773 a huge private corporation, the East India Company, was on the verge of bankruptcy. "But the company's warehouses," our textbook states, "bulged with 17 million pounds of ... tea." To save the company, Parliament gave it a monopoly on the sale of tea to the colonies. 

     Despite the fact that this tea would actually have been cheaper, the colonists objected to an unjust law that said no one could sell tea in America except the East India Company. The objection was so intense that — in New York, Charleston, Philadelphia — the tea was sent back to Britain or held in warehouses at the docks. But in Boston, Governor Thomas Hutchinson ordered that the tea be unloaded. Hutchinson, I explained, had two sons and a nephew who were tea agents for the company. 

       I asked, "How did the men who were for this law — Lord North [the British prime minister], others in Parliament, Hutchinson — see the colonists?" "They didn't care about them," said Billy Johnson, "only about the British company." "They didn't care about what was right," said Serita Jimenez: "it was about money." "The British were just for themselves!" Vito Vitelli called out. 

     We read this from our textbook: 

    On the evening of December 16, 1773, a well-organized group of colonials disguised themselves as Indians .... They boarded three ships ... and threw 15,000 pounds of tea into the dark waters of Boston harbor. This incident is usually referred to as the Boston Tea Party.
The students were thrilled. "Wow, they were really something!" said Esteban. In being against injustice, were they also for justice and kindness? "Yes!" was the resounding answer. 

     In just six weeks, this lesson and others like it dramatically affected my students and their ability to learn. Esteban — about whom I'd heard a teacher say, "He'll never learn anything; he's slow" — passed every classroom test and got a 78 on the citywide uniform final. Of the 16 students who took this exam, 15 passed. Toward the end of the summer session, Al Salzo said in amazement, "We always have such a good time here!" 

     I love Eli Siegel for teaching the beautiful, true, intelligent way of seeing history that enables it to be really useful. He is the most important educator and historian ever to live. That persons of the press and New York City Board of Education have kept the urgently needed Aesthetic Realism teaching method from people is the most cruelly unintelligent thing in history. As surely as it was the right of the American colonists not to be taxed without representation, it is the right of every child in every school across America to meet this teaching method — the knowledge that will enable his or her mind to be all it can be. 

*The names of students 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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Photographic Education: the Aesthetic Realism Viewpoint
A New Perspective for Anthropology: The Aesthetic Realism Method
Self-Expression and What Interferes: an Aesthetic Realism Discussion
John Singer Sargent's Madame X, an Aesthetic Realism Discussion

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