• Teaching World War I through the Aesthetic Realism Method, Part I

    Note: This is a paper about education that I'm proud to have given in New York City in 2003, as part of a seminar at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation. Some things have changed in education in the decade and more since then: notably, there has been a concerted onslaught against public education that has taken forms such as closing "low-performing" schools in poor neighbourhoods, abolishing teacher tenure, & attacking teacher unions. There has been the creation of thousands of charter schools, [the US equivalent of the UK's "free academies."] and the revamping teacher evaluation methods to rely predominately on test results. The curriculum emphasizes "rigour” over "frivolous" activities such as art, music, literature and the humanities – and the testing itself has expanded geometrically. All this has provided billions in education tax dollars to private companies, which I see as the main purpose of the attack. Some of the situation described at the start of the paper was part of it. The closing of Norman Thomas High School, which was loved by many, was part of it too. Meanwhile the crisis in education has continued and worsened.

    But though things have changed, the fundamentals of education remain. How can a young person in 2015 be encouraged to see the curriculum as friendly: mathematics as meaningful, grammar as important, history as relevant? The Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method has been doing this since the 1970's.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    In 21 years as a New York City teacher, I have never seen education in such as crisis as it is today. Norman Thomas High School, where I teach global history, has between 400 and 500 more students than it had two years ago, because other large public schools are being divided into mini-schools and the excess student population has been transferred to us. This dangerous overcrowding has led to an increase in the number of fights, to three teachers having to take turns using the same room, and the fact that hundreds of students have to wait until 8th period--2:00 pm--to have lunch. The schools' resources have been stretched thin.

    In these circumstances, it is so easy for a young person--or teacher--to be cynical. And this is what I saw at the start of the semester. The atmosphere in the Global History class was one of dullness, punctuated by sarcastic, angry comments. "What do we have to learn about dead people for?" Alfredo Muniz asked with disgust. [The names of all pupils have been changed for this paper]. Alan Bell, whose test average was in the 30's, continually made jokes and acted as if the subject didn't matter to him, saying "I'm not going to graduate anyway." Rosie Garcia, a very pretty young woman, spent a lot of time putting on makeup during lessons, seemingly unaware of what was going on. Alexis Ramos brought in a newspaper one morning and showed me a paragraph about a fourteen year old "youth offender" who had been shot and killed. "That's my cousin." She said. He was murdered on her stoop late at night. Giselle Collins would make angry, mocking comments and was in a team with Michelle Baker, recently here from the Caribbean. Michelle was furious at the racism she'd met in this country, and would assert repeatedly that no good has ever come from a white person. Then, when there was a test, she'd put her head on her desk, saying despondently that she couldn't take it, and couldn't remember anything.

    Yolanda Paredes, a junior, never commented in class and wrote almost illegible essays, beginning paragraphs half way across the page, jamming words and sentences together and writing over and under lines. When I suggested she try to write more clearly, she said resignedly, "I can't." Yismeny Lopez shrugging her shoulders, complained, "History's boring. What's it got to do with my life?"

    As an educator, I'm enormously grateful to have seen evidence year after year for what Aesthetic Realism explains: the deepest desire of every person--no matter how cynical he or she may be--is to like the world, and this is the very purpose of education itself. For cynicism to lose, students need to see through the subjects in the curriculum, that reality itself, with all its messiness and confusion, is made well, has a sensible structure and can honestly be liked. "The world, art, and self explain each other," Eli Siegel stated, "each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." Through this principle students come to see history as interesting, as valuable, and--to answer that question of Yismeny Lopez--about their own lives! And that occurred as my class studied one of the most terrible times in history: World War I of 1914-1918.

    soldiers on the Western Front

  • Teaching World War I through the Aesthetic Realism Method, Part 2

    The causes of what was called for many years "The Great War," are complex. This war, in which 25 nations took part, 8.6 million died in combat, and which had the first use of trench warfare and mustard gas, has been used to say the world is essentially ugly and senseless, and that people are at bottom selfish and cruel.

    soldiers blinded by mustard gas

    I told the class we would be asking: Was there something running all the nations involved without which there would have been no war?
    I said I've learned from Aesthetic Realism that every event in history is centrally about ethics--about the question: on what basis are we going to take care of ourselves, through being just to the outside world, including other people, or through superiority and contempt?

    In the previous unit, we had studied Nationalism and Imperialism--seen as two of the main causes of this war. Nationalism is described by Webster's as the "exalting of one['s own] nation above all others." And from our textbook Global History and Geography-The Growth of Civilizations (Brun, Forman, & Brodsky) we read the following sentences:
    "Many people in each nation of Europe felt themselves to be superior to the peoples of other nations...The leaders of various nations [felt] that their country had the right to rule territory beyond their own borders and on different continents."

    Related to Nationalism is Imperialism--the feeling of a country, say Britain, that it had the right to conquer many countries around the world, and see the land and people living there as inferior, existing for the profit of the British and their businesses. The competition of European nations for power in Africa and Asia has been seen as one reason European governments desired war--to displace each other in controlling the natural resources in these continents. In fact, the man for whom our high school is named, Norman Thomas, was passionately opposed to American's taking part in the First World War--he felt a central purpose was profit for corporations.

    Our textbook continued:
    "Nationalism...led to the rise of Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism. Pan-Slavism was the name given to a movement in Russia. The people who belonged to this movement felt that it was Russia's right and duty to protect Slavic people living anywhere in Europe....The supporters of the Pan-Germanism movement sought the protection of all German-speaking people in Europe."

    "Can we see from this something of what the war began with?" I asked. "They each thought they were superior to the others," said Marguerita Duran. Yes, I explained, and the basis of this superiority is the false assumption that what is like oneself or the same as oneself is inevitably better than that which is different. It's also not wanting to see what seems different is like you. So both Nationalism and Imperialism are ways of dealing with the tremendous opposites of sameness and difference. I read the class these sentences from an essay by Eli Siegel titled "We Build Up Ourselves":
    "All we need to have the most hurtful contempt is sameness and difference unfortunately placed. We are disposed to think less of others because they are not ourselves; and that's enough. We are disposed to think more of ourselves because we are ourselves; and that's enough. And from these two likelihoods of difference and equivalence, the most frightening and painful things can ensue."

    Crime of the Ages

    "That's what they were doing," Alfredo said, excitedly--"they were making more of themselves and less of other people because they were different." I asked: "Should we protect someone just because we see them as like us, from the same background, same culture?" "No!" said Giselle Collins. "So what should be the basis upon which one person defends another?" "If they're right!" said Marguerita Duran passionately. "If there's a problem, and I'm wrong, just because she's from my nationality doesn't mean that she's got to come in and help me. She should go against me with the other person because the other person is right!"

  • Teaching World War I through the Aesthetic Realism Method, Part 3

    As part of this unit on World War I, the class read and discussed passages from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, published in 1929. Remarque, who fought in World War I, tells the story through Paul Baumer, a German soldier fighting the French at the Marne River--the western front. The novel is tremendously moving and had a large effect, including through a powerful 1930 film based on it.

    All Quiet on the Western Front

    We learned that it was later banned in Germany, and burned by the Nazis before World War II. I told my class that I see this novel as a powerful showing of what Aesthetic Realism explains--that unless we want to see the feelings of people different from us as real--as like ours--we can do any inconsiderate, mean thing, be cruel.

    In the novel, Paul, after weeks in the front lines, gets trapped between the lines of trenches in no-man's land and cannot move because of the shells and machine-gun fire. It is night, and he imagines what he will do if a French soldier takes cover in the shell-hole where he is taking cover:

    If anyone jumps in here I will go for him...stab him clean through the throat, so that he cannot call out; that's the only way....
    A French soldier does take cover in the trench and Paul stabs him three times. Yet he himself cannot escape and is forced to remain and hear the suffering of this young man. Remarque writes:
    "(F)or a moment the groaning becomes louder, his forehead sinks back upon his arm. The man is not dead, he is dying but he is not dead. I drag myself toward him...At last I am beside him. Then he opens his eyes. He must have heard me, for he gazes at me with a look of utter terror...
I raise one hand, I must show him that I want to help him, I stroke his forehead....
"I look for the knife and find it again. But when I begin to cut the shirt the eyes open once more and the cry is in them again and the demented expression, so that I must close them, press them shut and whisper: "I want to help you, Comrade, camerade, camerade, camerade----"

    Paul tries to help the French soldier he has stabbed

    The class was gripped and silent. "What is happening to Paul?" I asked. I was moved when Tania Sanchez, whose cousin had been murdered, commented, "He's seeing that the Frenchman is a man just like him, that he has feelings and he's dying because Paul killed him." Rosie said, "He's forced to see what the man is feeling inside, what's his pain and what he's thinking of...(H)e feels his conscience telling him what he did was wrong." Alan Bell, who had been so mocking, was serious for the first time, saying, "He feels regret for what he's done."

    The Frenchman dies, and Paul thinks more about this man, imagining what his life was like:
    Now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up-take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now...

    My students spoke about how much they respected Erich Maria Remarque for showing how Paul is driven by his remorse and now sees the soldier he killed as like himself. About the sentence "Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us," one student said: "They don't tell them how much they're alike--because they wouldn't fight if they did!"

    This novel has been read for over 85 years and people have been moved by it--but for a person to see, as my students did, that it's really about us, critical of how we see other people different from us, is new and important. Through this lesson and others like it, these young people, once cynical and separate became really interested in history; they also became much kinder, including to each other. Alfredo Muniz, who, at the beginning of the term said history was boring, wrote: "I think the way that Paul sees [the French soldier] now has more true relation of sameness and difference. They were different in nationality but the same in everything else. They both had family and friends and the same fear of death. This is important because we're on our way to World War III and people must see that war is not the answer to all problems."

    Michelle Baker--so bitter earlier, who had said she couldn't remember things, and that no good could ever come from a white person, changed! She began passing tests and writing essays she is proud of. She no longer tries to run the class and her classmates, but listens and encourages them. "I feel calm in this class," she said recently. Yolanda Paredes, whose writing was illegible, is now writing carefully and clearly, and she is getting a passing grade. All the students are much more interested in what's happening in the world right now, want to express their opinions, and are also more self-critical.

    People today, including school administrators and government leaders, need to know what my students were learning. And I want to say very soberly, if what happened in my classroom were multiplied by thousands of classrooms throughout America and Britain--we would have a different world, a safe world. Yes, the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method can and does change cynicism into real interest, real desire for knowledge, and real kindness. This is the education needed everywhere.

    See also:
    What Caused the Wars, by Eli Siegel -- an essay that contains the definitive understanding of the emotion impelling nations to war
    Contempt & World War I -- the first part of a lecture Eli Siegel gave about the Great War
    Educator Leila Rosen on Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting"
    Writer Lynette Abel describing a class given by Eli Siegel on "The Miracle at Verdun," a play about World War I

  • Hunger In Children Has To End!

    With "austerity" programs inflicting suffering on people all over Europe and beyond, I think every person should read the following passionate sentences, to get more of an idea of what we are talking about when we say "austerity". They are by the Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss, and I've quoted them before:

    "Among the effects of unemployment . . . is hunger, including the hunger of children across the land who cannot get the food their little stomachs need because their jobless parents are unable to purchase it. And there is this effect: every person who wants a job and cannot get one, feels a certain way. When a person sends off a resume [CV] and gets no response or is turned down; or goes for a job interview, then learns he has been passed over; or, after working someplace for years, is told his services are no longer needed, there is tremendous feeling. Millions of people are being made to feel that they cannot be of use, that America does not need what they can do. That feeling is horrible. And it comes from a lie."

    --From Jobs, Feelings, & Philosophy, issue #1826 of the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known

    Child Hunger in UK

    As British leaders embrace austerity (though hardly suffering themselves), everyone should be aware of how this will affect society as a whole and those individuals, like the children Ellen Reiss is writing of; the 99% who are seen simply as fodder for the profit-machine. Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, did say 45 years ago, in 1970, that such a system of economics could not endure because deeply people cannot stand it. What we are yearning for is a system of economics that is based on good will. Good will, the real thing, not some soupy, soft, unbelieved-in mush, is what Aesthetic Realism teaches and what the world needs. In fact, Mr. Siegel said that good will is the most suppressed emotion of all. That is very hopeful, and I've seen very much evidence that it is true. The victory of Syriza in Greece, the election in Delhi, the outpouring of support for people who represent kindness and consideration for those who are NOT billionaires, are part of what Aesthetic Realism sees as the "force of ethics" working in the world. Whatever happens in 2015, ethics is on the march and cannot be stopped.

  • An Aesthetic Realism Discussion of Sargent's "Madame X"

    There is a thrilling Aesthetic Realism discussion by Lynette Abel, about a portrait I've admired for a long time. Titled Sargent's "Madame X"; or, Assertion and Retreat In Woman., it can have every man deeper and more thoughtful about a woman, how she sees; her questions to herself.
    Madame X
    This is also a perceptive and revealing critical analysis of a famous and loved portrait. As I read and think about this, I have more respect for women, for art, and for John Singer Sargent, the American artist who painted "Madame X".

    This talk is a good opportunity to see what Aesthetic Realism is. It is education of the widest kind, about everything from art to mathematics, from history to science to poetry to music and the lives of individual people of today and yesterday. But that's too much respect for some people apparently, and consequently there are lies about it on the Internet. I passionately object to these falsehoods, which are calculated to scare people away and prevent them from seeing Aesthetic Realism for what it simply is: an exciting, critical, thought-provoking education of the highest class. As a friend of mine said recently, "Aesthetic Realism is FUN!" You can read more about the reason for the attacks at Countering the Lies.

    I think we were born to have more respect for and greater feeling and knowledge about the world, including the people in it. That's why I'm grateful and proud to be studying Aesthetic Realism. I'm learning how to be a better and more fulfilled human being! And, yes, this is a study based on principles such as this one by Eli Siegel that Ms. Abel quotes in her talk: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."

  • Aesthetic Realism, De Gaulle, & Our Debate About More or Less Feeling

    I've just read a terrific web article titled "The Debate in Every Person: to Have More Feeling or Less?" It's by writer and Aesthetic Realism Associate, Michael Palmer. He takes up and makes vivid this contest in self which we all have but mostly aren't aware of.

    He also writes about the important international figure of the 20th Century, General Charles De Gaulle.

    De Gaulle

    The article is profoundly moving as the author interweaves descriptions of his own early life; what he learned from Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism and from the Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss; scholarly historical references to the life and emotions of General De Gaulle; and the history of his beloved country, France.

    DG at Arc de Triomphe

    I remember back in the 1960's that my sister's French penfriend was fiercely devoted to De Gaulle, and I remember the friction this caused in my family. How could she love this person who seemed to be so against what Britain wanted? Reading Michael Palmer had me understand Sylvie, myself, De Gaulle, and the nation that is one of my absolute favourites in the world -- La France!


  • Aesthetic Realism on Art and Life

    What if there were a way of relating all the arts in a deep and true way? And of learning from poetry, singing, acting, painting, and others how to have a happy life?

    Well, there is, and at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation that is what is taught, in the most exciting, intellectually-satisfying classes I've ever attended. I have taken a great number of classes in my life, and I know what I'm talking about here.

    In Self and World, Eli Siegel, poet, philosopher, and founder of Aesthetic Realism writes:

    "There is no limit to how art can be used to make life more sensible. To see art as making life more sensible it is first required of one that he respect art, know what it is, not make it less than it is."

    Respect for art is exactly what Aesthetic Realism has, and every class taught with this basis is a testament to that fact.

    You can find out about this new way of seeing:

    --New York City landmarks -- their beauty and importance, by Aesthetic Realism consultants Faith and John Stern

    The High Line in NYC

    --Poetry, with classes taught by the Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss

    -- Acting -- with links to papers on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Ophelia, and “I Believe This about Acting,” by Anne Fielding, actress, consultant, and Director of the esteemed Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company.

    Aesthetic Realism Theatre Company

    -- Papers on the visual arts and architecture:

    "Art Opposes Injustice: Picasso's Guernica -- For Life," by artist and consultant Dorothy Koppelman


    “Gerrit Rietveld's Red and Blue Chair & What I Learned about Rest and Motion in Myself” by architect Anthony Romeo.

    Rietveld Red and Blue Chair

    -- Music, including jazz, classical and more – how does music put together opposites? Why does a particular instance of music move us so deeply? Find out here!

    -- Photography Len Bernstein and others on what makes a photograph good or great?

    Bernstein Woman Exiting Subway Station

    -- Anthropology, including the groundbreaking work of Dr. Arnold Perey

    Gwe by Arnold Perey

    Here are many links to other writings and commentaries.

    Aesthetic Realism Can End Racism -- the name speaks for itself, and how important this fact is at this time.


  • The NHS, Ethics, and Aesthetic Realism

    NHS strike
    There was a four-hour strike today by NHS workers in the UK. These are the people who care for the sick, perform often back-breaking work in hospitals, bring babies into the world safely, respond to 999 calls, save lives every day in emergency wards, visit the homes of the elderly to see they are OK! The government has pushed them to the edge with its rejection of even the paltry board-recommended 1% pay increase. And this while MP's complacently grant themselves 11%!
    0% 11%

    It's not only the pay; over recent years the NHS has been drastically underfunded while at the same time millions have being funneled to private corporations whose prime interest is profits for shareholders, not patient care. This is barbaric! The state of mind impelling this is described to a t by Eli Siegel: "The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt." Contempt, I've learned from Aesthetic Realism, is the basis of profit economics. Contempt is what has a person decimate vital services, endangering the lives of millions of people, so that they and their wealthy families and friends can profit financially -- all the while calling it "efficiency," "cost-cutting," "modernization" and the like.

    NHS Children's Hospital closed

    Meanwhile, all over the country groups have sprung up representing regions, counties, cities, and individual hospitals and clinics, galvanizing support for the NHS. Marches organized by the Darlo Mums and others have shown and added to the love that Britons have for the NHS. They represent what Aesthetic Realism has shown is the force of ethics working in people and reality.

    Darlo Mums rally in Trafalgar Square

    In the lectures he gave in 1970 and later, scholarly, passionate analyses of economics and people's lives, (with evidence from history, literature, current events, and much more) Eli Siegel said this, which I love: "Ethics is a force like electricity, steam, the atom -- and will have its way."

    There are many moving, passionate tributes to the NHS on Youtube, such as this one of a flash choir singing thanks to the NHS.

    Dismantling the NHS is a crime, a return to the Dark Ages, and people will suffer and die so that a few others can reap profits from their need for health care. I've lived with for-profit health care for over thirty years and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. It is not civilized. AND it is not good enough for people, for what people are and deserve. Eli Siegel said "There will be no economic recovery until economics itself, the making of money, the having of jobs, becomes ethical; is based on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries." (Reprinted in "The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known" #1519, "Self, Ethics, and Oil")

    This is the start of an article I wrote some years ago about why I am so grateful to the NHS, and why there is such a grassroots, unquenchable objection to for-profit health care:

    "In early March I got the call every child of an elderly parent dreads: My mother, Kathy Balchin, age 80, had fallen, breaking her left wrist and right leg. Coming home was out of the question. She needed hospitalization, nursing home care, then physical therapy. She was in a state of shock...."

    Read more at the Aesthetic Realism Online Library.

  • Aesthetic Realism Looks at New York City: Poetry

    I like this beautiful poem (below) by Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, very much. It still amazes me that Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy which teaches people how to like the world on an honest basis -- and how to truly like themselves as a result-- began with poetry classes! You can find out more about that at the Aesthetic Realism Online Library

    Meanwhile, here is the start of the poem. I think it's one of the most charming and deep things I've ever read, intimate and wide, funny and poignant, written a good deal in ordinary language, the language of people talking, but yet, how musical!

    Love Lurches Along

    In love, you don't know what you're getting in Elizabeth, N.J.,
    And you don't know what you're getting in Pottstown, Pa.
    So why should New York be different?
    Since when was New York heavensent?

    See you tomorrow, if I can make it, dear.
    So you don't want to see me; I could have known it long ago.
    Not tonight, Elmer, I just don't feel like it...

    Continue reading the wonderful "Love Lurches Along" at Aesthetic Realism Looks at New York City: Poetry

    Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

  • Self and World

    Oxford skyline

    I still remember walking down Logic Lane in Oxford, near the philosophy library during the late 1970's and thinking about Thomas Nagel's essay "What it is like to be a bat."

    Logic Lane

    The idea, which Nagel discusses, that another living thing had real consciousness was a revelation to me. But ironically I didn't carry this over to my thinking about other creatures more closely related to me such as humans! I was a snob, and my lack of seeing that other people have feelings just as deep and complex as my own -- which I think represents a lot of people -- made me lonely and cruel. I really didn't see the philosophy I was studying at Oxford as having anything to do with my own personal feelings and thoughts.

    That is why studying Aesthetic Realism means so much to me. I learned that the root cause of my trouble was contempt, building myself up falsely by making less of other people and things -- and this is a hurtful drive in every person. What I've learned from Aesthetic Realism, through literature, history, current events and more, has given me a new way of seeing people, including the people I knew at Oxford, with more depth, accuracy, and warmth. This includes my parents, Kathy and Robin Balchin, my sister, Heather Robertson, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and the young people I've taught for more than 32 years in New York City.

    I began studying via consultations, and now I'm learning in the greatest classes in the world, taught by the greatest teacher I know, Ellen Reiss, the Chair of Education. Yes, I said “greatest”!

    Self and World, an Explanation of Aesthetic Realism, by Eli Siegel, has been my guide these past three decades and more . I am proud to recommend the book that has made me kinder, happier, and has given me true pride!


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