At a time when scientific subjects appear to have won a place of prominence in education and training, often for merely utilitarian reasons, it is more important than ever to bring young people close or closer to the humanities. This is indispensable because it enables young people to identify the necessary criteria to discern what is good and what is less good in the culture they inhabit; it provokes within them those questions and doubts that are fundamental on the journey toward maturity.
In this regard, it is interesting to be familiar with the personal experiences – in school and in encountering the culture of their times – of two Church Fathers: Augustine and Basil.
In his Confessions, Augustine recalls his first years of school when the education system happily resorted to coercion and punishment. Like all children Augustine preferred playing more than studying, but to make the children study, teachers did not hesitate to inflict punishment, even corporal punishment. “I was sent to school to learn to read and write, but I, poor wretch, did not know what use there was in it” (I 9.14).
Augustine realizes later on that school effectively serves to prepare young people to get ahead in the world, to acquire honors and riches. But is this the true school? Augustine notes a contradiction within the system: if children play ball instead of studying, they are punished; but when adults are idle, it is called “business,” and no one says anything because this is precisely what school has prepared them for (cf. I 9.15).