LITERATURE & REALITY?: Confessions – Learning Methods

Having set Augustine aside to deal with pressing issues, I pick him up again at a point where he questions both parenting and formal means of education.  He claims, I think, that as a boy what he was forced to learn by study and beatings for failures, was something that he felt at the time was wrong when life observance brought with it better understanding of the lessons.

Why then did I hate Greek which has similar songs to sing?  Homer was skilled at weaving such stories, and with sheer delight mixed vanity.  Yet to me as a boy he was repellent.  I can well believe that Greek boys feel the same about Virgil when they are forced to learn him in the way that I learnt Homer.  The difficulty lies there: the difficulty of learning a foreign language at all.  It sprinkles gall, as it were, over all the charm of the stories the Greeks tell. (1:23)

Augustine does not give me the solace of philosophy as Boethius had, but rather shows both sides; what he in youth did in rebellion, and yet still half approves of as a man.  He makes me think.  While understanding him, I cannot help but try to understand mankind and selfishly, myself.

I learnt Latin without the threat of punishment from anyone forcing me to learn it.  My own heart constrained me to bring its concepts to birth, which I could not have done unless I had learnt some words, not from formal teaching but by listening to people talking; and they in turn were the audience for my thoughts. (1:23) 

What can I take from Augustine?  Right now, the knowledge of using experience to grow.  While best, of course, to put behind me the anguish of the past few years as soon as it is truly past and done, it will have been wasted if nothing is learned.  That is, not that something must be learned, but that it can offer opportunity.  Motivation, interaction, depth of dedication to truth, acceptance.  Study living things as well as any written words.  I can learn the language of man’s nature by watching man. That, I think, is what Augustine teaches here.

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