St. Augustine chronicled his early life in Book I of “Confessiones.” In it, he proposes that there was never a time when he was innocent, corrupted as he was by Original Sin, and his depiction of infancy is one of selfishness and ungratefulness for the plenty that is provided by one’s adult caretakers. His telling is from his observation of other infants and the tales of his mother and midwives, and he admits that he is extrapolating his own behavior as an infant from his understanding of other children.
As St. Augustine moved from infancy to boyhood, he relates his experiences with school and the adults striving to teach him, and it is in this telling that many parallels to modern life and schooling can be drawn. He describes enjoying not the lessons early in his schooling, preferring play instead. In Chapter XII he says, “…I had no love of learning, and hated to be forced to it, yet was I forced to it notwithstanding; and this was well done towards me, but I did not well, for I would not have learned had I not been compelled” (“Confessiones” I.12.19). St. Augustine goes on to describe the education he received, being made to learn Greek and Latin and to read the poetry and prose of these languages. He further laments in his enjoyment of the Latin tales and the praise heaped upon him for his studious attitude toward them, which mirrors the current school environment in which the children are praised for absorbing and repeating back modern degeneracy and heresy. Modern children are taught to love all manner of liberal thought from the earliest of school days until they leave the institution. No thought is given to God or His Word in the educational facilities of today, and we find it was the same in the days of St. Augustine.
As St. Augustine looked back upon his childhood, he recalled being punished for not taking interest in the subjects his masters wished him to study. In hindsight, he was able to see that God had used the errors of him and his masters for His own glory. St. Augustine might lose the stories he held so dear as a child, but the ability to read and write would stay with him forever (“For those primary lessons were better, assuredly, because more certain; seeing that by their agency I acquired, and still retain, the power of reading what I find written, and writing myself what I will; whilst in the others I was compelled to learn about the wanderings of a certain Aeneas, oblivious of my own, and to weep for Biab dead, because she slew herself for love; while at the same time I brooked with dry eyes my wretched self dying far from Thee, in the midst of those things, O God, my life” (I.13.20). He viewed literacy as one of the gifts from the Holy Spirit that allowed him to record what he did for the glory of the Lord. So might the lessons of modernity be applied by today’s children if they but had the will. The sin and error of youth might yet be applied to growing the Faith and the Church. St. Augustine rightly sees that the schooling he received encouraged all manner of sinfulness and error, but he also saw that it could be applied later in repentance of the same.
The Church must apply the insight of St. Augustine and reclaim educational institutions. Imagine the works that could be encouraged to be created if sinfulness and error were to be eliminated from the lessons taught to children. Degenerate lifestyles could be eliminated before they ever had a chance to take root. Great works of Christian literature could be undertaken once again by those properly educated. St. Augustine looked upon his schooling with shame, but that does not have to be the fate of others. The errors of institutional learning can be corrected if the Church but had the will to place its teaching into practice within schools ordained by the bishops of their respective territories. Nuns could once again teach the children and encourage the faithful into lives of service to God and fellow man.