Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Art of Teaching as Explained by Aesthetic Realism

I recently read an early (1982) issue of the international journal , The Right of Aesthetic Realism To Be Known titled, "Beauty in Time." It contains a portion of a 1951 lecture Eli Siegel gave in which he discussed a newspaper article about schools for children that were mentally ill. In this section, he describes with great kindness, charm and practicality the need for a teacher to put together the opposites of energy and repose to be effective in the classroom.

Prior to my study of Aesthetic Realism these opposites were at war in me and I didn't know how to change it. I went from frantic activity to not being able to get up off the couch. I moved at breakneck speed in the classroom, which I don't think was very composing to my students; then there were times I'd sleep the whole weekend away. The big thing I learned from Aesthetic Realism in consultations, was that I was not fair to the world and and people in my mind and so I didn't feel at ease under my own skin. Without knowing, this affected my whole life, including my tempo in the classroom. I'm grateful to say through what I learned in Aesthetic Realism consultations, and later in classes with Eli Siegel, this has changed greatly in my life. I look forward to changing even more. I also used the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method for 30 years in New York City classrooms with enormous success because of what I learned and have had the privilege of teaching it to teachers along with my colleagues in All For Education since 1975.

At this time in the history of education, there has been an unrelenting pressure on teachers and administrators to have their students pass standardized tests, and make that the sole thrust of learning. I thought it would encourage teachers to see that still, there is beauty in what they are after as a self and as an educator. Aesthetic Realism explains the source of that beauty--the oneness of opposites--and how to make it a reality in one's life.

The portion of the lecture I am quoting from is titled, "The Aesthetics of the Matter."

"The notion of beauty is implicit in every newspaper article you'll ever read; in fact, in every story that you'll ever hear, in everything that you'll ever tell yourself, in everything that you'll ever look at, hear, touch, taste, smell. The name Aesthetic Realism means that all reality has to do with aesthetics.

We have in this article the phrase "pilot school." A school is a place where a teacher urges children to learn, puts pressure on them in a sense, and yet, if she is a good teacher, acts as if the child should be entirely at ease and not feel under any pressure or under any hurry. What has this to do with aesthetics? Of course, a great deal.

The idea of energy and repose, which is very basic in reality, is present in all activity, not only that of a teacher teaching, but in any activity that has a purpose. The teacher must appear alive, must act as if she were concerned, exerting a definite influence on the children, and yet seem to act as if she were a quiet brook, quite at ease, quite restful.

If the teacher seems to be indifferent, and seems to be unconcerned, or too namby-pamby, or too wishy-washy, as some teachers are, then of course the children will notice it, and think of throwing spitballs; at least they won't like it; they'll go to sleep. On the other hand, if the teacher--as many are at certain times, particularly when the teacher is under stress herself--if the teacher seems to be like a battering ram, or is continually, in her mind, pulling the ears of the children, the children will likewise get restless.

So a good teacher, and for that matter a good person, has a problem of being at ease and yet showing energy. What is the basis of that problem? Where does it come from? How can one judge it? Aesthetic Realism says that the question of how to be reposeful is essentially an aesthetic question; and if any teacher asks herself, "How can I be a live teacher and yet not seem to be rushing the children or pressuring them?"--if she does want to answer that question fully, she'll have to get down to the aesthetics or the beauty of the matter.

Whenever there is energy and repose, there not only is efficiency, but in so far as the teacher represents energy and repose she would be beautiful...because in her manner there would be that combination of quiet and vividness that would make a picture beautiful, or music beautiful, or writing beautiful. And the only way to make sure that there is that energy and repose, is to see where energy and repose are to be found anywhere in reality--that is, to see how reality is seen as beautiful by having repose and energy."

There is a chapter in the book Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism by Eli Siegel called, "The Aesthetic Method in Self-Conflict." In it he describes with great logic and everydayness, this principle of Aesthetic Realism: "Every person is always trying to put together opposites in himself or herself." I remember reading this early work of Mr. Siegel's in the 1970's and feeling new dignity and hope as I saw my personal questions given a basis in the study of aesthetics.