Mind and Schools
By Eli Siegel
We introduce Eli Siegel’s lecture Mind and Schools through portions of the commentaries by Ellen Reiss from the issues of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known in which this lecture was serialized.
Introduction by Ellen Reiss
In the schools of New York and elsewhere, there is a battle between learning and anger. Aesthetic Realism can have learning win.
Eli Siegel has shown that the deepest desire of every person is to like the world. This is true of a girl we can call Nora Jimenez. Six years old and entering first grade, she has heard her parents fight loudly, seen rats in her apartment, and sometimes gone without lunch because there was not enough money. It is true about a high school student—we’ll call him Christopher Morgan—of Forest Hills. He has come to feel everybody is a phony and out for number one; he thought last week of killing himself in the basement of the Morgan home. Aesthetic Realism shows that if a person dislikes the world he will be deeply disinclined to take that world into him in the form of subjects in a school’s curriculum. He will also want to punish the world, manipulate it, leave it.
In issue twelve of this journal, Eli Siegel described the purpose of education: “to know and like the world.” Liking the world is an emergency now in the schools of New York. Until teachers are convincing their students that through mathematics they can like the world, that history shows them a world they can like, that spelling is a means of liking the world—there will be failure in classrooms. The failure will include anger, mocking, inability to learn.
The following principle is the basis of the great, kind, successful Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, and the basis for honestly liking the world: “The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.” I know—for I have experienced it both as student and teacher—that when you see how the opposites are the heart of every subject and the same opposites are in every problem, desire, activity of your own life, you learn. You also have that combination of excitement and composure which accompanies the greatest education. I know that this can be for every student in a New York school. I know how beautiful and effective the Aesthetic Realism education is; I had the good fortune of meeting it at the age of four. In Aesthetic Realism lessons, I learned from Eli Siegel that, for instance, every word is a oneness of hard and soft, force and gentleness (the sc in school is harsh and the l is gentle, and they are joined by a wondering oo). I learned that I wanted these opposites to be one in me: Mr. Siegel said of me at age six, “Ellen has difficulty in looking mad and smiling and feeling she is the same person.” I learned that I could be an accurate critic of things and people, on the basis of how the world’s opposites were together in them: I did not have to be run by contempt.
The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known is proud to serialize the 1949 lecture Mind and Schools, by Eli Siegel, whom I consider the greatest educator in history. Every teacher needs to study Aesthetic Realism, and I have seen that to do so is the most beautiful thing that can happen to any life.
I want to give three instances of Eli Siegel’s magnificent justice to the mind of man—which means the minds of individual children, hoping, lonely, energetic, unsure in American schools on Monday morning. There is this quiet and electric sentence written when he was twenty-one, in “The Scientific Criticism,” Modern Quarterly, March 1923: “Man’s mind was made to know everything.” Mr. Siegel was convinced of this, and in the decades that followed showed it is so.
In “The Equality of Man,” Modern Quarterly, December 1923, Mr. Siegel fights for humanity, including for children in “special education” classes now. He says, “This writing will aim to show that Men Are Equal—in the clear and full meaning of the words….Mind needs nourishment, care and training all by itself….And the fact is plain enough that millions and millions of people from the beginning of the world, with man living in it, have not got this mind’s nourishment, care and training….And I say it is wrong to say that anyone’s mind is inferior, until it has been completely seen that it has been given all the nourishment, care and training that it needs or could get.”
In the 1940s, Eli Siegel wrote “The Child,” chapter 9 of his Self and World. In some of the greatest prose in English, he describes the depths of children. There is this sentence about the difficult girl Luella Hargreaves: “Luella knows that she has a self, that this self is frantically beating at doors, fumbling with locks, restlessly trying to meet the sun; and to emerge.”
Mr. Siegel has enabled the self of every person to emerge, through the philosophy he founded: Aesthetic Realism.
—Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism
Chairman of Education