Augustine and education

According to Alain de Botton the two great contributions of Augustine were:

1. His framing of the phrase ‘original sin’ to describe what happened in the Garden of Eden, and
2. His description of two great cities – the City of God and the City of Men.

The former is important, according to de Botton, because it recognises and allows for failure. We all need to know that we can and do fail. The latter is important because it recognises human limitations. We are not in Heaven but on a fraught earth.

de Botton is an atheist who holds great stead in the Christian doctrine of human sinfulness because it enables people to tell the truth about themselves. I don’t know how he justifies these contrasting positions except that he sees the collecting of wisdom as of value.

At our Speech Day at PLC Sydney our captain spoke of the pressures on young women to be perfect, and encouraged girls to be brave. It was an inspiring speech. The notion of accepting failure was her own choice of subject.

I am reading two books on Augustine at present and Blaise Pascal’s Pensees.
In our desire to assist our children to go well we can easily stymie them. Augustine and Pascal had a great knack for telling the truth about themselves. Augustine is a very confessional writer – noting his own failings candidly. Pascal draws attention to the tough things in his life – in all of our lives. It is freeing to read them.

Those of us who have spent quite a lot of time in schools know that not only do students sometimes lie, but their parents can even lie for them. We should not be surprised because it is easy for any of us all to: exaggerate our strengths, seek to protect those we love by altering stories, or organise understandings according to our view of things. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

One of the primary self-disciplines in life is to learn to tell the truth. Yes. Tell it in love rather than in a manner that exaggerates one’s own feeling of influence or power; and tell it gently – but tell it all the same. And it is so freeing.

This program isn’t working as well as I would have hoped…
I can see I was wrong here…
I actually think this worked…
Wow! this looks like it is going great…

In Simon Conway Morris’ (Professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge) book, The Runes of Evolution, he provides evidence that evolution is not random, and he postulates that there are mathematical frameworks, patterns, inevitabilites behind the universe. Perhaps this deep desire for truth-telling has the same source as Conway Morris’s postulates. Perhaps the same something that, to quote Frost, doesn’t love a wall.

We educate young persons, not just young utilities. We educate souls. And they need an underlying grace and honesty to develop a good sense of self.

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