Needed by America’s Schoolchildren!
Dear Unknown Friends:
In this issue we are publishing a tremendously important article by one of the most courageous and distinguished educators in America, Rosemary Plumstead. It was originally presented as a paper at the public seminar titled “The Answer to America’s Learning Crisis: The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method.”
Mrs. Plumstead taught for more than three decades in the New York City public schools. Now retired as a teacher of high school science, she is one of the instructors in the Aesthetic Realism teaching method, and presents workshops in it at professional conferences throughout America. Through this method, she says, “I have seen thousands of young people, many from the toughest areas in New York, learn successfully.”
The Purpose of Education
Eli Siegel was the philosopher to show that the purpose of education—whether in biology, languages, history, computers, cooking, meteorology, sewing, physics—the purpose of all education is “to like the world through knowing it.” Mrs. Plumstead illustrates this and the other principles at the basis of the Aesthetic Realism teaching method as she describes a science lesson she taught, and describes too the response of her students. What happened in her classroom, how her students changed and succeeded, is what parents, teachers, communities, and young people themselves want desperately to have happen in the schools of America.
The two matters concerning education that are causing terrific worry in our land are: 1) students’ failure to learn, which has been increasing; 2) their cruelty to each other, including through “cyberbullying.” It is a great and beautiful fact that the Aesthetic Realism teaching method is the solution to both—and that through this teaching method, the subjects of the curriculum are themselves the means by which students become kinder. That is clear in Mrs. Plumstead’s article. Students of different backgrounds, who resented and scorned each other, became respectful of each other, became friends.
The success Mrs. Plumstead documents represents that of other teachers who use the Aesthetic Realism method—no matter what the grade level, subject, neighborhood.
What Is Needed
Without commenting on the various “solutions” now being advanced in school districts and by the US government, I want to be plain. There are two things needed now for America’s schoolchildren to fare well. One is: America must be owned in a way that young people can see as just to them. A report on aolnews.com notes that “an estimated 16 million children” in our nation “face[d] a summer of hunger this year.” For children—let alone 16 million of them!—to lack food in this land is completely obscene. Further, millions of children who may technically get enough to eat are poor. Millions of others have parents who are unemployed or worried about being unemployed. This is happening because, as Eli Siegel explained forty years ago, the profit system—the ownership of America’s wealth by essentially a few people rather than all—is immoral, un-American, and no longer works.
America’s schoolchildren feel there is something very ugly in how wealth, the good things in life, are had and not had in America. Without being able to express it clearly, they feel there is a profound contempt for them in that arrangement, and in the fact that people let it go on. They are right to feel this. Then, understandably but wrongly, so many respond by having contempt themselves for the outside world.
Contempt, Aesthetic Realism explains, is the most hurtful thing in the human mind. It’s the big impediment to learning and is also the source of cruelty. Contempt is the feeling that I’m more by lessening the world different from me. It can take the form of a young person’s unknowingly declaring war on the facts presented in a classroom—feeling they stand for a world not good enough to get within her. And contempt has taken the form of students retaliating against the world by scorning and hurting a representative of it—another child.
And so, for schoolchildren to fare well, America must have an economy that’s just to them, and everyone. Children have to feel that the adults with power are really going after that justice—not smoothly evading.
The other necessity for our schools is the Aesthetic Realism teaching method. The fact that it succeeds even under the present circumstances shows its kind, logical might. Here I must state, in all politeness, the reason this method is not yet nationally implemented, though its success has been proven for decades: various persons with official positions haven’t liked the fact that there is knowledge in it—about education, the world, and self—from which they themselves need to learn. It has been a matter of snobbishness and conceit—versus a method that at last enables young people to take in facts eagerly and see each other in a way that makes them proud.
We precede Mrs. Plumstead’s article with three very short poems by Eli Siegel. He wrote them all in 1961. And musically in all of them there is a oneness of suspense, or stir, and composure. (These are opposites both young people and older people long to put together.)
The last is about a matter urgent now. Because this short poem is of such importance for today, I have substituted the word Muslim for the variant, then current, that Mr. Siegel used: Moslem. My doing so causes the first and second lines, which originally rhymed, to be in assonance. In both versions, we feel that oneness of kindness and logic which is Aesthetic Realism.