A Missing Step in Learning
IN BOOK I OF HIS CONFESSIONS, Augustine writes that for all the literature he read, for all the glory and passion and tears shed as his teachers required him to read about Aeneas and Odysseus, he never thought to apply what he read of the “empty romances” to himself--
I was obliged to memorize the wanderings of a hero named Aeneas, while in the meantime I failed to remember my own erratic ways. I learned to lament the death of Dido, who killed herself for love, while all the time, in the midst of these things, I was dying, separated from you my God and my Life, and I shed no tears for my plight.”
I realize that in his youth Augustine was lamenting his separation from God, even his ignorance of Him. Yet I wonder to myself how he skipped the step of application, whether spiritual or otherwise. He obviously experienced the pathos of the stories as led by his teachers. But story is more than emotion. Did he not wonder if he would do as Aeneas did. Augustine did admit to tears by the end of reading. Did he not learn about himself by reading The Aeneid? Oh, I wish I could ask him.
This is the question for me. Story is experience. We want to connect to characters, to empathize with them, to cheer, to rage, to grieve, to love because our life experiences are stories.
But if we fail to learn about ourselves from literature or history,
Augustine simplistically concludes that stories are “empty fantasies dreamed up by the poets.” Though they are “enchanting,” they are “futile.” He feels there are more valuable studies and would rather jettison them entirely.
I don’t know what Augustine’s teachers modeled, but I do know that as a teacher, I want to model application. Yes, I want my students to understand a story. But that is the simplest step, the first shallow one leading into the water at ankle depth. I want to equip them with tools and methods and context to analyze a piece further in knee or waist-deep water. And most importantly, I hope to model application to the heart. If I have not asked, “What does this show in our humanness?” Or “How can God use this story regardless of the author’s intent?” then I will have drawn up short.
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash
7/25/2020 11:23:39 am
I love this! I teach a poetry class myself (an INTRO class) and I often use the poems to talk about life. Students always comment at the end of the class--or middle, when I ask for comments--that they thought the class was going to be mostly about how many lines are in a poem, what kinds of poems are out there, etc. Once they find out that it more about what we DO with poetry, WHY people write and HOW we can reflect upon what those poets thought and how we can relate those thoughts to our lives today, those students find the course more rewarding. I am revamping and hope I can be ready by next Spring, but I can certainly use encouraging notes like this. Thanks for sharing!
7/25/2020 11:38:30 am
Thanks so much for reading, Michelle. The longer I teach, the more I realize it's in HOW I introduce or explain poetry or lit just as much as the subject matter. It might all come back to how C.S. Lewis talks about "using" or "receiving" what we read. And of course, we know as teachers that it starts with us! https://www.christinenorvell.com/blog/how-to-think-about-how-we-read
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