Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Relates, Self, Subject, World

I present here an article published originally in 1984 in issue #601 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known--an international periodical edited with tremendous scholarship and justice to people by the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, Ellen Reiss. This article is a portion of a paper I gave at a public seminar on education at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City.

At the time, I was teaching at Mabel Dean Bacon Vocational High School on 15th Street and 1st Avenue. This school has since become the Manhattan Comprehensive Night High School. I was also teaching English out of license to 9th and 10th grade students. In this paper I illustrate how the opposites, beautifully made one in the subject, explain the most ordinary and tormenting questions of our lives. When I was so fortunate to be a student in classes with Eli Siegel in the 1970's, he asked me questions about the opposites of rest and motion, wandering and stoppage and I was able to know myself better and see myself in relation to music and geography. This principle by Mr. Siegel is at the core of the success of the Aesthetic Realism Teaching method: "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." It can end forever that dreaded question teachers hear: "Why do I have to learn this?"

Education: Self, Subject, World
By Rosemary Plumstead

In "Aesthetic Realism: Some Central Notions," as Eli Siegel describes education he is also explaining what every student hopes for: "Education, principally, is the pleasant finding out of how things can help us know who we are as we see them." What child wouldn't want to go to school if he thought he could have a good time knowing himself through seeing what the world is?

Rest and Motion

As a student I did not see the subjects I studied as having anything to do with the world I went out into after school. I didn't know that as I studied, for instance, the living patterns of Native Americans, I was studying opposites central in my own life. Yet I remember the thrill I felt learning that the Iroquis Indians of New York lived in longhouses which were made of wood and were stationary, while the Plains Indians lived in tepees made of animal skins, more suited to nomadic life.

Many years later, in the first Aesthetic Realism class taught by him that I attended, Eli Siegel asked me: "Do you have a fight between wandering and stoppage?" I sure did. I had a hard time sitting still in school and giving attention. I talked constantly to my neighbors, and though I sometimes did class assignments with a feverish enthusiasm, I would give up if I couldn't understand quickly. (I probably would have been labelled ADD). I would wander to the wastebasket or bathroom. In high school, I often slept in a class or wandered the halls. This difficulty was agonizing to me as it is to the thousands of young people who feel now what I did then. It troubles students today so much that keeping the hallways clear is a major security problem in New York schools. With Aesthetic Realism as the basis, students can learn through the Iroquis and Plains Indians, for instance, how painful opposites in themselves can serve the same purpose.

Separation and Junction

As a student, I felt a tremendous rift between what went on at home and what I learned in school. Many young people feel this. I found it hard to concentrate in a class after having angry words with my father at home. The world seemed fragmented, and that made me feel I couldn't sit still. This term I am teaching English to ninth and tenth grade students at Mabel Dean Bacon Vocational High School. When I asked students if they felt their lives were more whole or in pieces, they said, "pieces." One student put what she felt this way: "All the classes I go to during the day seem different, and when I leave I don't remember things. It gets all mixed up in my mind."

Students feel the world is not coherent and can't be liked: they feel justified in having contempt for the educational system, including their teachers. I have seen students learn better, remember more, when the true relation among self, subject, world is seen.

In an Aesthetic Realism class, Eli Siegel asked me, "What is the large matter concerned in the life of everyone? The relation of separation and junction. Music tries to be spacious and rich. Have you sometimes had an accelerated fit?" Yes. I remember running around the gym for hours, feeling frantic. I would sometimes talk so fast, one world would trip over another. I would also get so knocked out, every movement and word was an effort.

Mr. Siegel showed me that boredom is related to frantic activity: both arise from a bad relation of separation and junction. He said, "When we want to be 'blah,' we do one thing after another and see no connection." He used geography to explain how, in the physical world, things are far apart and also close. "Take Wyoming and Montana, for example. The towns are far apart. In New England you feel it's all one town. If you look at music, sometimes notes are very close, and sometimes very spaced in a measure. Is there a fight in you between bunching things and being leisurely?"

Throughout the thirty years I used this method, I saw that the opposites are the relation among the world, any subject, and ourselves. Seeing this can change the apathy and anger in our schools.