Monday, March 14, 2005

An Excerpt from "The Child," A Chapter from Self and World by Eli Siegel

As a teacher of 33 years in New York City High Schools, I found Eli Siegel's chapter called "The Child," from his Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, invaluable. With tremendous depth, kindness, and comprehension, Mr. Siegel describes the inner life of representative children, enabling parents and teachers to see them with greater fullness and respect. It enables us to know our own selves better and also meet more fully the hopes of children and young people we know. This chapter is a must for every parent and teacher. For example, Mr. Siegel writes:

"The purpose of education is to bring to the child's desire for order and diversity, fit material through which this desire can operate. A parent or teacher does not bring order to a child as he might bring an apple. It is the duty of a parent or teacher, humbly and respectfully, to see that the desire for full accuracy already existing in a child not be blunted or distorted. For this, an understanding of what mind and self as such are, is necessary. One may say this is hard to know; this is a metaphysical problem. Yet the difficulty of the problem does not destroy the necessity for meeting it.

When Joe Johnson was born, there was something he was after. The force in him that made his heart beat, had purpose to it. His possibilities were his purpose. If we don't know what these possibilities are or what the purpose is, we should honestly say that we are working basically in the dark. We know that Joe wanted to be well. The question is: Well for what? We know that he wanted to have good metabolism: A good metabolism for what? We know that very likely he wanted to learn the alphabet: The alphabet for what? We know that he wanted to get along with other children and other people: To get along for what? If that deepest purpose, even though he and we do not see it clearly, is deflected or injured, the self of Joe Johnson will not be at ease. If it isn't at ease it will retaliate.

I have said earlier that the principal desire of every human being is to know; that is, to have reality in mind. To know the world is to be at one with it; and this means to be happy. I believe that every activity of the child has something to do with the desire to know..."

Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism by Eli Siegel, was published by Definition Press in 1981.