DISCUSS THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF ST AUGUSTINE TO EDUCATION
Augustine was born on November 13, 354. He was a pagan who studied many doctrines/faiths before converting to Christianity. As a result, much of his educational focus was on the interpretation of Scriptures and Christian beliefs. Although he became a believer in Christian principles, his writings, “Letters of Saint Augustine”, strongly support that his ultimate faith was based on the intense study of Scriptures and other authors’ writings on religious matters. Augustine was a strong advocate of critical thinking skills that was referred to as “skeptical philosophy” (Kirwan, C. 1999, p.16). In his letters, he critically “tore apart” analysis of Scriptures by others that were not fully supported by logical thinking. “The theology and philosophy of the medieval schoolmen and the creator of medieval universities were rooted in Augustinian ideas of the relation between faith and reason” (Chadwick, 1986, p. 1).
Language translation skills were important because books and their knowledge were not accessible unless they could be translated. “I cannot marvel enough that anything should still be in Hebrew texts which has escaped so many learned scholars” (Leinenweber, 1992, p. 41). “They disturb me more who have made the translations more recently, and who have said to have a better grasp of the style and syntax of Hebrew words and phrases” (Leinenweber, 1992, p. 41).
Augustine was a teacher of rhetoric and a great admirer of Cicero, acknowledging him as “the greatest master of Roman eloquence.” (Leinenweber, 1992, p. 222). Because written works were still rather limited during this time, spoken communication of knowledge was very important.
Augustine was a strong advocate that the written and spoken word were powerful skills worth learning. He enjoyed “playful debates” with students and friends. “This kind of intellectual gamesmanship is said to have been very popular among African Christians” (Leinenweber, 1992, p. 11). However, he strongly critiqued other learned writers or speakers.
Augustine, Love, and True Education
But Augustine brings something else to the intellectual endeavor which can help us think about an explicitly Christian understanding of the nature and meaning of education. Augustine, in De Trinitate and elsewhere, can argue that one must love what one knows. That is, the intellectual endeavor, the quest for knowledge, is not simply about the downloading of data. Rather, the intellectual endeavor is always—and without fail—related to one’s “loves,” or to the state of one’s heart. Thus, for Augustine the act of knowing is related to loving in that we really cannot know what we do not love. Thinking in Pauline and eschatological terms, we might say that one cannot know what one does not love, for it is only when we love something that we can begin to grasp what something is really like. Put differently, it is only when we love something or someone that we can begin to get a glimpse of who or what someone really is. Like the parent listening to a child clunk out notes on the piano, while the stranger hears only a discordant combination of notes, the parent hears—even within the combination of wrong notes, bad rhythm, and off-timing—what the child is really capable of, or at least what the parent hopes the child is capable of. That is, the parent—in a sense—has an eschatological vision of what might be, and in some cases, what might really be the case one day. For Augustine, only in love are we able to see—and hence know—what something is really like, or at least of what someone or something is ultimately capable of being—or becoming.
ST. AUGUSTINE’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO EDUCATION
The contributions of St. Augustine to education are enormous and be seen to have had great impact on the society. Some of the contributions can be discussed below;
Augustine and Teaching
To be a teacher in the context of this struggle was, for Augustine, an act of love. Indeed, he advised teachers to “Imitate the good, bear with the evil, love all” (1952, p. 87). This love was required, for he knew the hardships of study, and the active resistance of the young to learning. He also considered language to be as much a hindrance as a help to learning. The mind, he said, moves faster than the words the teacher utters, and the words do not adequately express what the teacher intends. Additionally, the student hears the words in his own way, and attends not only to the words, but also to the teacher’s tone of voice and other nonverbal signs, thus often misunderstanding the meaning of the teacher. The teacher, thus, must welcome students’ questions even when they interrupt his speech. He must listen to his students and converse with them, and question them on their motives as well as their understanding. He saw education as a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation. Further, he saw teaching as mere preparation for understanding, which he considered an illumination of the “the teacher within,” who is Christ.
Augustine, then, thought teachers should adapt their teaching to their students, whom he distinguished into three kinds: those well educated in the liberal arts, those who had studied with inferior teachers of rhetoric and who thought they understood things they did not actually understand, and those who were uneducated. The teacher needs to begin with all students by questioning them about what they know. When teaching well-educated students, Augustine cautioned teachers not to repeat for them what they already knew, but to move them along quickly to material they had not yet mastered. When teaching the superficially educated student, the teacher needed to insist upon the difference between having words and having understanding. These students needed to learn docility and to develop the kind of humility that was not overly critical of minor errors in the speech of others. With regard to the uneducated student, Augustine encouraged the teacher to be simple, clear, direct, and patient. This kind of teaching required much repetition, and could induce boredom in the teacher, but Augustine thought this boredom would be overcome by a sympathy with the student according to which, “they, as it were, speak in us what they hear, while we, after a fashion, learn in them what we teach” (1952, p.41). This kind of sympathy induces joy in the teacher and joy in the student.
All three of these kinds of teaching are to be done in what Augustine called the restrained style. This style requires the teacher not to overload the student with too much material, but to stay on one theme at a time, to reveal to the student what is hidden from him, to solve difficulties, and to anticipate other questions that might arise. Teachers also should be able from time to time to speak in what he called the mixed style–using elaborate yet well-balanced phrases and rhythms–for the purpose of delighting their students and attracting them to the beauty of the material. Teachers should also be able to speak in the grand style, which aims at moving students to action. What makes the grand style unique is not its verbal elaborations, but the fact that it comes from the heart–from emotion and passion–thus moving students to obey God and use his creation to arrive at full enjoyment of God. This hoped-for response is wholly consistent with what is probably the most famous quotation from Augustine’s autobiography, The Confessions: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (1997b, p. 3).
Of the two great traditions in liberal education, the oratorical and the philosophical, Augustine is distinctly an orator. He believed more in imparting the truth to students than in supporting the individual student’s quest for truth. He used the dialogical mode as one who knows the truth, unlike the Greek philosopher Socrates, who used dialogue as one who does not know anything. He thus established a Christian philosophy, which has influenced scholars and educators throughout the history of the West.
Augustine directly influenced the Roman statesman and writer Cassiodorus and the Spanish prelate and scholar Isidore of Seville who, in the sixth and seventh centuries, established the seven liberal arts as a way of enriching the study of the Scriptures. The Anglo-Saxon scholar and headmaster Alcuin, in the eighth century, used Augustine’s works on Christian teaching as textbooks. The Italian philosopher and religious leader Thomas Aquinas’s attempt in the thirteenth century at synthesizing Aristotle and Christian faith may be understood as an extension of the work of Augustine, as can the Christian humanism of the Dutch scholar Erasmus in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In the first decade of the new millennium, Augustine’s use of psychological autobiography speaks directly to those educators who view introspection and empathy as critical features in the life of a teacher. His awareness of the centrality of personal and political struggle in human existence, and of the educative and healing power of human dialogue still speaks to the condition of many teachers and educators.
While valuing reason as the one thing that sets human above all creation (Credo ut intelligam. “I believe in order to understand.”)he nonetheless emphasized the primacy of faith. Understanding follows faith, he believed. But this did not lessen the need to use reason, especially to avoid over reliance on the sense perceptions. Reed and Prevost summarized six educational principles from Augustine’s writings:
• The teacher should help the student experience God
• The teacher should take into account the unique characteristics of each student and relate to the students as unique individuals
• Christian education should include the study of Plato, for most Christian doctrines were contained in his writings
• Teachers must recognize the image of God in persons as their rational nature, thus it is to be used as a tool to relate them to God
• Teachers should distrust the senses as a means to knowledge and use reason instead
• In the tension between faith and reason, faith must predominate.
In Augustine’s view, the teacher was key to effective, formative education. He argued that the teacher’s attitude would determine the student’s enthusiasm for learning, and that good teaching skills were critical. In fact, he argued that it was better not to teach than to teach ineffectively and with a poor attitude. As an educational thinker, Augustine transcended his generation to make an enduring contribution. His impact continues to be felt today.
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Leinenweber, J. (1992). Letters of Saint Augustine. Tarrytown: Triumph Books
Walsh, G., Zema, D., Monahan, G. & Honan, D. (1953). Saint Augustine City of God. Garden City: Image Books