Friday, January 02, 2015

Aesthetic Realism and Learning: A Lecture by Eli Siegel

I love this 1950 lecture by Eli Siegel very much.  What he says about learning is as timely as ever.  He defines learning as: "the getting into oneself of the world, with as much variety, as much order, and as much respect as possible."  According to Aesthetic Realism, which I have studied and used as the basis of my teaching since the early 1970's, every subject stands for the world.  As we learn mathematics, history, science,  or read a book about Lewis and Clark's explorations, we are getting into our minds knowledge about the world different from ourselves.  This is our deepest, most fundamental desire--to like the world through knowing it and it is the purpose of all education!   There is also that in us that would like to think less of the outside world, including people, to trivialize and dismiss the meaning of what is different from ourselves.  The desire to make less of the world is contempt, defined by Eli Siegel as: "the addition to self through the lessening of what is not oneself."  This, I have learned, is the greatest opposition to learning and the cause of our not liking ourselves--not having the feeling about the world that we hope so much to have.

In her important commentary to "Aesthetic Realism and Learning," Chairman of Education Ellen Reiss writes: "In this lecture, Mr. Siegel speaks, greatly, on the relation of knowing and feeling and the kind of feeling people are looking for.  Aesthetic Realism is education in how to know the world and ourselves rightly so we can feel rightly."  I know this to be true with my own grateful life and through the lives of thousands of students I taught in New York City public high schools over 30 years of using the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method.  You can read the entire lecture here: