Sunday, October 25, 2009

The People of Clarendon County Performed in Washington, DC

"The People of Clarendon County"--a Play by Ossie Davis, was performed on October 21, 2009 at the Congressional Auditorium located in the U.S. Capitol Visiters Center, in Washington, D.C. I was present at this moving performance of the play. Written by Ossie Davis in 1955 and performed only once by Davis, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier, it was unearthed by Alice Bernstein, journalist and Aesthetic Realism Associate, and published with Ossie Davis's blessing. The play chronicles the courageous fight of black citizens living in Clarendon County, South Carolina to get schools and an education for their children equal to white children. It is stirring and inspiring to see how the battle fought by these ordinary citizens, unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, led to the landmark decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. Also contained within this work, are photographs and historical documents from that time in Clarendon County and essays on how the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded in 1941 by poet and historian Eli Siegel, can end racism.

Featured in this presentation, and in the book by Alice Bernstein, is the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method. This method, which I used for more than 30 years in New York City public high schools, enables students to learn the subject successfully and become deeper, kinder, more just individuals. Elementary educator, Monique Michael, gave a lesson on this historic evening about sameness and difference in birds--how they are made with similar AND different physical structures which enable to thrive in their environment. This diversity among living things is beautiful and persons in the audience--who were called on to participate--felt that the world would be less interesting without it. This is also true, Mrs. Michael pointed out, about human beings. She shows that we, too, are a thrilling and sensible relation of difference and sameness that should be honored, celebrated and respected without limit. You can view the program for this event by clicking above on "The People of Clarendon County."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method and The Purpose of Education

I am pleased to publish an introduction that Eli Siegel wrote for the very first public seminar on the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method presented in 1973 by my colleagues, All For Education (TRO #1065). I had not yet learned of Aesthetic Realism. At the time, I was a fairly new teacher of health and physical education at Adlai Stevenson High School in the Bronx. While I liked teaching very much and cared for my students a great deal, I was already beginning to feel ineffective and burnt out. I pursued a Masters degree in Community Health because I wasn't convinced I would last in the classroom very long and I wanted an option in a closely related field.

Well, I did begin my study of Aesthetic Realism in 1974 and the rest is history. The reason I have loved the Aesthetic Realism approach to education, philosophic and everyday, is found in this introduction by Mr. Siegel. I loved the logic of its principles, their practicality and beauty. They enabled me to love teaching and to feel fresh after decades of being in the classroom. And I watched students minds flourish as they saw, through the opposites in the subject, that indeed the world could honestly be liked. And I am proud to say that since 1975, I have taught a bi-weekly workshop for educators on the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method as part of All For Education--Barbara Allen, Dr. Arnold Perey and Patricia Martone. And now the introduction:

"The Purpose of Education" by Eli Siegel

While it has been hinted or intimated often that the purpose of education is to come to a relation with the world which makes the world itself acceptable and oneself likewise a source of pride, it hasn't been clearly said that all education--whether geometry or agriculture, arithmetic, poetry, or computing--is for the purpose of liking the world.

Aesthetic Realism, in keeping with much that has been written of mind, says that mind does two things: it knows; and also likes and dislikes. The first of these possibilities is called the cognitive. All knowledge is some aspect of the cognitive. The second is called the affective; and all pleaure and pain, preference or dislike, hope and fear belong to the affective.

If people are rich in the cognitive--know things in the world and the world itself quite opulently--and don't like the world, it would seem that the knowing has not come to full avail. Suppose a person knows everything in any curriculum with fulness or subtlety and at the same time says, "All these subjects still have not made me think better of the world. I've studied engineering, and I'm not sold on the world. I've studied chemistry, and as far as I'm concerned, chemistry doesn't make me like the world at all better. I've studied theology, and theology makes me doubt the world. I've studied history, and I think the world in terms of its past is as much a mess as the present is."

We have to ask, then: What should be the relation of pleasure and pain, or the affective, to the cognitive, which has to do with knowing and not knowing? Aesthetic Realism says that where anything is known and whether one likes it or not is looked on as unimportant, there is a great deal of mental weakness in the world.

There are two things, then, in education. One is to know the world as well as possible. The other is to ask consciously whether the knowledge of the world can make for the like of the world. If it cannot, the world is a mistake. If it has to be that the more you know the world, the more you think it is against you or you don't have the valid right to care for it, then knowledge itself is part of a cosmological disruption and a mental disruption. Aesthetic Realism says that knowledge and feeling are the same thing; and that true knowledge of the world makes for true like of it.