Saturday, March 26, 2005

Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method seminar

The next education seminar at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation will take place on Thursday evening, May 12 at 6:30 pm. I strongly recommend it for every teacher, parent, and anyone who works with young people or cares about what happens to them. Here's the announcement:
The Answer to the Fury & Failure in America's Schools -- The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method !

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method Ends Prejudice!

This is a paper I was honoured to give at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City in an education seminar, which I've also spoken about at the New York Technical School and at the National Union of Teachers in London, (England). There are so many problems in schools, here in the US, in the UK, and elsewhere involving racism, bullying and this teaching method can really change them.
I have changed the names of the students since this is a public posting.
--Christopher Balchin


It is a shameful and totally unnecessary fact that prejudice is rampant in America today including, tragically, in schools, the very places where it could and should be understood and ended.

The students at the middle school in Brooklyn where I taught science several years ago, most of whom are Hispanic and African-American, are seen with prejudice as they walk the streets and ride the subway. Our unjust economy hurts their lives immeasurably. What these young boys and girls and their parents meet is described by Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, in the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #1187:

As millions of people are jobless, or working long hours and getting paid much too little, as they worry about being able to feed their families and pay their rent, there is within people a terrific anger. That is why prejudice in America is, in many ways, more intense and overt than once: having contempt for someone different from you; feeling you're Somebody because you're better than someone else; has a person feel he has gotten swift sureness and put in its place a world he can't make sense of and sees as an enemy.

This describes what I have seen increasingly—students are angrier than ever, more likely to flare up suddenly, and there is more racism. Cuts in funding for education combined with ill will on the part of school administrators means that even basic supplies such as paper, pencils, and photocopies are not available, and students who desperately need reading and maths are left without subject teachers for four months. Some teachers make fun of students and lump together students who they see as "troublemakers" in a way that is prejudiced. Students are justifiably angry at the way they are seen and treated—yet, unfortunately, too often they use the injustices they meet to have wholesale contempt for everything, including each other and learning itself.

Yet, I am so proud to say: I have seen the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method change prejudice in students, just as Aesthetic Realism has criticised and changed prejudice in teachers, including me. Not long ago there was an ugly "game" of bullying of students from Guyana, who are in the minority, by other students. The Guyanese were seen as different, and they were forced to run a gauntlet of kicks and punches every day on the way in from the playground after lunch. It was contempt, which seemed to give the bullies that "swift sureness" in a world they couldn't make sense of and saw as an enemy.

I was furious, and I wanted to it to end. I told all my students about a time I beat up Jonathan Scott, who, coming from a poor neighbourhood, was seen as different by my friends and me. Right after the fight I was so ashamed, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. I told my students what I had learned from Aesthetic Realism about the cause of meanness in myself—it was contempt—and that I learned that if we see another person as having feelings as real as our own, we cannot be cruel. I told them about an Aesthetic Realism assignment I had done and asked them to do it: Write a monologue about what a person recently arrived from another country feels. They did it, and they became kinder to each other. The bullying stopped.

I. Symbiosis Shows the World Makes Sense
I am grateful to use as my basis for teaching science this principle by Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism: "The world, art, and self explain each other; each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." And I have seen the same opposites that fight in prejudice--sameness and difference—are one in the structure of reality itself, and every lesson can show this.

Our first unit was on Ecology. As we began the year, I saw prejudice in my students in the form of mocking each other’s skin tone, suspicious looks, and making fun of new ideas. I knew it would be good for them, because of the way they were against each other and the world, to learn through the Aesthetic Realism Method about symbiosis. It is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "the intimate living together of two kinds of organisms, especially where such association is of mutual advantage." In symbiosis the organisms are often strikingly different, but they actually help each other.

We looked at instances of symbiosis. Reading a page from the book Animal Behaviour, edited by Patricia Daniels and Karin Kinney, (and I wish you could see the wonderful illustrations in the book!) we learned about the relation between two very different beings:

Certain types of ants and aphids enjoy a relationship known as symbiosis, in which different species help each other to survive. Aphids—tiny, slow-moving insects that live on plants—feed on nectar, which they suck out of plant stems with their long, pointed mouths…(and) it is turned into a sugary substance called honeydew…Honeydew is a favourite food of dairying ants.

We learned that the ant, which likes this liquid, cannot obtain it by itself. But nature has so made these two beings, that when the any strokes the aphid's abdomen it gives off honeydew, which the ant “then drinks from the aphid’s cornicle.” Our text continued: “Ants will also attack any insect (like the ladybird) that tries to eat the aphids, even if the invader is much larger than they are…Scientists are not sure when or how this remarkable relationship began, but the discovery of fossilised ants and aphids together shows that the two types of insects have been helping each other for at least 30 million years.”

"How do both creatures benefit?" I asked the class. "The ants get honey, which they need," said Luis Betances. "And the ants drive off the ladybirds, so they protect the aphids!" said Jorge Osorio. I asked the class, "What would happen if an ant looked at an aphid and thought, in the way that a person who is prejudiced can think, "You look different--who needs you?" "It would starve," said Charles Miranda. But Juan Santiago, a young man who can use his keenness to mock, commented scornfully "No it wouldn't! It has plenty of other things to eat!" I asked a question I was once asked in an Aesthetic Realism consultation: "What's going to make us stronger--to use your mind to look down on things, to feel superior; or to know the world?"

Everyone saw that the ants and aphids are different but they add to and need each other. And I asked: Does this show that what is different from us can add to us, make us more who we are?” There was excitement in the class as they wanted to give examples of how needing the world made them more themselves, such as needing the sun, oxygen, friends, food, music, and more.

II. Symbiosis Seen Newly
The question can be asked: why all these years has the study of symbiosis not made students less prejudiced? The reason is that without the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method people haven’t seen: 1) that symbiosis is about the tremendous opposites of Sameness and Difference which are tormenting people on the streets of New York, and 2) it shows that these opposites don’t have to fight; you don’t have to be against what is different from you, because in reality, sameness and difference are thrillingly friendly.

I asked the class if they knew what a hermit crab was, and several did. It is a crab that finds an abandoned shell of suitable size to live in. "Why do you think it has this sea-anemone that looks like a hat on its shell?" I asked the class. They thought it was probably for protection-- maybe for camouflage, or maybe the sea anemone would get eaten instead of the hermit crab if an enemy attacked them. The class learned that the truth is even more amazing. The crab lives in a shell for protection, which is good enough to thwart some predators. However, the fearsome octopus has jaws that are strong enough to crush the crab, shell and all. So what this ingenious crab does is to take a living sea-anemone and place it on its shell, because the sea-anemone with all its luscious beauty has stinging tentacles that will repel the octopus. "How does it know to do that?" asked Rachel Torres, amazed.

We learned that the sea anemone gets something out of this relationship, too. It has more mobility, is able to travel about the waters with the crab and have access to foods it otherwise could not obtain. The whole class had a sense of wonder, and I am so grateful that through this lesson the students had more respect for living things, including each other, and for the force in reality towards kindness. Through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method they saw mind working, real intelligence, in other living things and liked it. Symbiosis is a relation of sameness and difference that shows the world itself has a beautiful structure. Here is reality itself giving the lie to the contempt in a person which exploits weaknesses and differences for superiority and says instead: I need something you have and you need something I have and we are stronger and happier together!

One student asked "What happens when the crab needs a bigger shell?" The class was moved to hear this answer:

When a hermit crab outgrows its shell, it moves to a new one. If it has anemones on its shell, the crab also takes them along. A person trying to pry an anemone off a hermit crab's shell would have a tough time. Sea anemones hold on to their supports with powerful suction disks at their bases. Any attempt to move a sea anemone by force causes the anemone to contract into a tight mound that cannot be moved. But when the crab tries, it gently massages the anemone with its claws until the anemone relaxes, grows limp, and loosens its grip. Then the crab plucks the anemone off its shell and carries it in its claws to their new home...The crab is not harmed by the poison in the anemone's tentacles...If the anemone was put on upside down, it rights itself, moves to a good position, and then sticks firmly in place.

Doesn't this show a beautiful and surprising fittingness between different things in reality?

The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method is at once the most tender, loving, and the most powerful means of changing schools, including as to prejudice, because Eli Siegel understood the human self and the structure of the world.

I want every teacher to hear the questions asked in an Aesthetic Realism education workshop taught by consultants All For Education, questions I have learned from: “Am I prejudiced? If so, what about? What am I giving false value to? Where am I making more or less of something to serve myself?”

As the days and weeks went by, I saw big changes in my students. There was less meanness and more kindness, much less anger and much more of a desire to know. Manuel Rivera, a boy with a sweet face, used to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. He hardly spoke except to mutter under his breath to people around him, whom he seemed to see as enemies. He would come late to class, and got into a fight every day. He started to come on time, became so much happier and he made friends in his class. They played football in the playground, shared their pens and helped each other study for tests. Manuel no longer had the world summed up as an enemy, and he gave it another chance.

Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism have educated me in what it means to like the world, and I am so happy for the effect this is having on my students and myself, and for the understanding that can and will make prejudice a thing of the past.

Here are some important resources about the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, the understanding--and fighting--of prejudice, about Aesthetic Realism consultations, how Aesthetic Realism sees beauty, and more:

Devorah Tarrow & Jeffrey Carduner, Aesthetic Realism Consultants

Good Will, the Only Solution, by Rose Levy

Bennett Cooperman & Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman

Aesthetic Realism Is Education -- links

music & our lives -- blog of Michael Palmer, Aesthetic Realism Associate and writer

Teaching The Miracle Worker by Ann Richards

The Criterion for Confidence, a seminar paper by Dr. Jaime Torres that explains the subject of confidence--and how to have it!

Article on using the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method to teach students in special education. Published in La Vida News, The Black Voice, by Jeffrey Williams. Includes thrilling discussion of the ethics and aesthetics of softball and baseball.

It is in Contempt that the Roots of Racism Lie--an article by Captain Allan Michael published in the Miami Times

Read what about what happens in Aesthetic Realism classes, from people who actually attend them and know firsthand--rather than falsehoods by someone who pretends to know.

See reviews of books by Eli Siegel.

Here are some other websites I strongly recommend: