An Aesthetic Realism Manifesto about Education
WE, ALL FOR EDUCATION, are Aesthetic Realism consultants who teach teachers. In this Manifesto we state what we have seen to be true about all education, past, present, and future—and what educators need desperately to know now. It is what we have learned from Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism.
Aesthetic Realism is a true description of the mind of man and of his relation to the world and all that is in it. We have seen, through careful looking, that Eli Siegel was the greatest and kindest educator in history. We are grateful to him: he changed our lives and made us able to meet the hopes of students. What Mr. Siegel taught can give every person a mind that can learn with pleasure. It is the birthright of every child to know Aesthetic Realism, and of every teacher to study it.
The writing of this Manifesto began in a class for Aesthetic Realism consultants and associates, Tuesday, August 26, 1986, conducted by the Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss, at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, with about one hundred persons attending.
Proudly, passionately, urgently, we quote as the first statement of this Manifesto Eli Siegel’s magnificent explanation, from Self and World:
1. “The purpose of education is to like the world.”
2. Every person’s deepest desire is to like the world. And so a child will learn when he is shown that mathematics is a way of liking the world, through social studies he can like the world, he can like the world through the way a word is spelled. This is beautiful, logical, and grandly efficient.
3. Every student has an attitude to the whole world. This attitude will affect how he takes in or doesn’t take in a fact coming from the world and about the world. Every teacher has an attitude to the whole world, and this attitude affects how he teaches a fact, a subject.
4. The one way to like the world—a world that has wars, economic injustice, and parents who 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. Further, these opposites are in us all the time, and we are trying to make sense of them, see them as one.
5. Every subject taught in every grade of every school is a oneness of reality’s opposites. Reading, for example, is the feelings of another person and your feelings becoming one. Writing is your inner thoughts becoming outward on a page. In mathematics, each number is different yet related to every other number. History is always a oneness of fact and feelings, past and present. As a student sees this, he is liking the world through a subject, and he learns.
6. Behind “learning difficulties” 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, equations, coming from that world; why should he give himself to the world in the form of writing?
7. The greatest interference with learning is contempt for the world. Contempt is defined by Eli Siegel as the “disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world.” Mr. Siegel has identified—for the first time in history—what all instances of unnecessary difficulty in learning have in common. A certain contempt is behind “dyslexia,” “mathematics phobia,” boredom, and the not being able to retain what one learns.
8. Every student is in a fight all the time between contempt for the world and respect. Every teacher is in a fight all the time between contempt for the world and respect.
9. Liking the world is an emergency: liking the world is the only thing that will have a person not use drugs. Drugs are used to get away from a world you don’t like.
10. A person going to school wants to see the relation of her home and the subjects she studies—how algebra can help her understand her mother. An equation and a mother both are a oneness of unknown and known, mystery and clearness. Quantities in an equation are both alike and different; a mother and daughter are (often confusingly) alike and so different.
11. The basis for the future of education is this principle by Eli Siegel, immortal, immediate, needed in every classroom: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” Here is the way to show what every subject truly is; how every subject is related to every other subject and to the self of a student and teacher. The opposites are the scientific and kind means of relation.
12. Only the world seen truly through the opposites can have a child feel there is something more interesting to him than the world he makes up in his mind.
13. Only the world seen truly through the opposites can make a person feel he doesn’t need to beat up or bully another person to feel important.
14. There is greater pleasure in seeing the oneness of opposites in things than in having contempt.
15. An important text for every teacher is the poem “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana,” by Eli Siegel, because it shows that all of reality is related—from a flying bird to medieval scholarship; from a stomachache to the French and Indian Wars, love, and the daily newspaper.
16. Teachers need to know they are more like their students than different. A tremendous mistake of teachers is not to see how like our students we are.
17. All teachers need to see how much they want to be superior to their students and need to criticize that desire in themselves.
18. The subject that interests students most, whether teachers see it or not, is ethics. Mr. Siegel has defined ethics as “the study of what the world outside of yourself deserves from you.”
19. “Good will is the culmination of all education.” Eli Siegel stated this, and lived it.
20. If an hour of a class has passed without the students and the teacher liking the world more, that hour has failed.
21. Every subject can and must be used to show this: the more you are fair to what is different from you, the more you are yourself. For instance—a musical scale, beginning from the first note, includes seven different notes and comes home to the first note an octave higher. It shows what we want: to be more ourselves through accurately including the world.
22. A teacher has to believe the deepest desire of a student is to like the world, or her students will punish her.
23. Every “behavior problem” is a problem in how to put opposites together, just as every art problem is. Take freedom and order—a student, even if he is running around the classroom, banging the walls, is hoping to be both free and orderly at once.
24. Do “hyperactive” children want only to be active, or do they want to have a oneness of rest and motion? Can every object show them how to do this? If a child running around the classroom is asked to look out the window, and is asked, “Are the clouds both at rest and in motion? Is that how you want to be?” —will that question have meaning for him? It will.
25. Every person is ashamed of not liking the world enough, and the shame about not being able to learn is deeply the shame about not liking the world.
26. Self and World: An Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, by Eli Siegel (Definition Press, 1981), is a crucial text for all educators, all clinical personnel, all people who want to know what is true about the human mind.
27. This question asked by Eli Siegel as a presentation of Aesthetic Realism, must be known and studied by every teacher:
Is this true: No matter how much of a case one has against the world—its unkindness, its disorder, its ugliness, its meaninglessness—one has to do all one can to like it, or one will weaken oneself?
Students from first grade through college see the answer is yes.
28. There are two kinds of anger. One is against what is unjust in the world in order to have the world better; we can be proud of this anger forever. The other anger is in order to have ourselves superior; this anger is ugly, dangerous, and frequent, and we are never proud of it. Teachers and students need to learn the difference between them.
29. Students need to be convinced that their teachers are trying to like the world themselves, and that their teachers want to hear criticism.
30. We say definitely: The greatest obligation of everyone working with students is to do everything he or she can to have students like the world. For this one must learn to like the world oneself. That is why every person teaching and working in an American school needs to study Aesthetic Realism.