Why Children Can’t Read—and How They Can
by Helena Simon
An historic letter which appeared in the Queens Courier [NY] of January 22-28, 1998
With the growing crisis in education in America and, in particular, concern about children’s inability to read, I want parents, children and educators to know what I learned from the education Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel in 1941, that enabled me to read and to love reading.
Mr. Siegel stated that “the purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it.” He also explained that the greatest interference to a person’s ability to learn is their desire to have contempt, which he defined as the “disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.”
When my second grade teacher thought I was “learning disabled” and would not be able to read, my mother and I learned from Aesthetic Realism that my difficulty in reading didn’t come because there was something wrong with my mind; I had difficulty because I was in a fight between wanting to know and like the world, and wanting to feel superior to everything—to have contempt.
“An Aesthetic Realism Manifesto about Education,” published in the international periodical, The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #703, importantly explains what I felt and what many children feel now:
“Behind every ‘learning difficulty’ is the feeling that the world cannot be liked. If a child sees the world as an enemy, why should he take inside him letters … coming from the world?”
And, it explains what all children need to know that will have them want to learn:
“The one way to like the world—a world that has wars, economic injustice, and parents that confuse us—is through seeing that the world has an aesthetic structure: it is a oneness of opposites, like difference and sameness, freedom and order, motion and rest, manyness and oneness.”
In Aesthetic Realism consultations, I heard criticism of my contempt, my feeling that words weren’t worthy of my attention—my thought and accuracy—and when I learned how words put opposites together, the same opposites I wanted to put together, I began to want to read.
Ellen Reiss, Chairman of Education, explains with beautiful clarity in The Right Of #982:
“Every child will read and love words who sees that a word, like cloud, in the sound of its letters, is a oneness of opposites — as is the thing the word names. The word cloud is wide, spreading, spacy, with its ou sound; yet defined, bounded too, with its firm consonants at beginning and end. … It is beautifully hard and soft at once, as every child and adult hopes to be.”
By the end of second grade my teacher and mother were dancing in front of the classroom because my reading had improved so much! Now, I am proud to be studying in a Master’s program to teach reading. I know that children will want to read when they see the world can be liked and deserves their interest. I say carefully and with much feeling that all learning difficulty will end when Aesthetic Realism is studied!
I want your readers to know of the upcoming public seminar, Jan. 29, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, titled: “Through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method—Students Choose Knowing the World, Not Fighting With It!” New York City public school teachers will show the thrilling success of this method — enabling students’ minds to flourish.
The announcement, giving examples of what students are learning in their classrooms, describes a young girl, Becky, who learns in her biology class that our skeletal muscles and bones are a great oneness of flexibility and rigidity. Becky,
“who is in a fight between being affected by things and wanting to be tough and hard, was thrilled … seeing that the body is a beautiful oneness of pliancy and firmness, so we can sit, stand, run, jump, dance—Becky is seeing herself and the whole world differently. She sees beauty in the way the world is made; so she doesn’t want to fight with it!”
The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is taught in an exciting and groundbreaking workshop for teachers. Teachers who use this method, from elementary school through college, are having unprecedented results. The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation at 141 Greene St., (212) 777-4490, www.AestheticRealism.org.
—Helena Simon, Manhattan