There are a few words that Miss Mason uses in her volumes that, when I read them, my instincts tell me are not being used in the same way we use them now. Among the words that have puzzled me has been “suggestion.” In her fourth principle of education, she writes:
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.
Both suggestion as well as influence have I considered over these years of reading. Influence became more clear when I considered the writing of books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which first appeared in 1937, not even 15 years after the publication of Miss Mason’s final volume (in which this principle appeared). Moreover, I read that there was a belief around this time that people had the responsibility to influence those around them.
In spite of this, my understanding remains rather limited and vague.
And so it has been with suggestion. My thought upon my first reading was to question why it would be wrong to suggest something to someone, even to a child?
Well, because perhaps the word doesn’t mean what I think it means.
I was proofreading the Parents’ Review article Morals in the Home, when this jumped out at me:
The analogy between suggestion and instinct he was probably the first to point out. Suggestion resembles instinct because it induces a consciousness of obligation, the feeling in the mind of the patient that he is compelled to do the act suggested. Suggestion in the hypnotic sleep is powerful because the mind is in a state of disaggregation. Education is powerful in the case of the young because the mind is rudimentary.”Suggestion is the transformation by which an organism more passive tends to bring itself into harmony with an organism more active; the latter dominates the former and eventually controls its external movements, its volitions, and its internal convictions.” It is the application of this notion to morality that makes this volume of unusual professional interest.
Suggestion is an instrument by which the educator will be able to modify instinct of inherited habits.
So first we see that suggestion here means — and very likely means in Miss Mason’s principle above — something like hypnotic suggestion rather than that noncommittal sort of suggestion we talk about today. And, like hypnotic suggestion, this sort of suggestion has a force of power far superior to our plain old suggestion in modern culture.
It is interesting to me that the article here, which Miss Mason included in the Parents’ Review, seems to be in favor of suggestion, while we know from her principles that she rejected suggestion as an educational tool, way back in her very first volume. The prohibition against suggestion wasn’t something she added into her later volumes.
Why would this sort of dissenting opinion be included? Well, I can only say that Miss Mason really did seem to learn from everyone and everything around her. While many would expect a magazine edited by Mason to be guided strictly by her philosophy, I have only read a small portion of the Parents Review article thus far, and yet have seen a much broader variety than I expected — articles in favor of classical schools teaching almost only Greek or Latin, or written by a disciple of Froebel, to name a couple.
But I digress.
In short, I think that we can consider Charlotte Mason’s prohibition of suggestion to be a prohibition of a subtle sort of manipulation.
‘Suggestion’ goes to work more subtly. The teacher has mastered the gamut of motives which play upon human nature and every suggestion is aimed at one or other of these. He may not use the nursery suggestions of lollipops or bogies but he does in reality employ these if expressed in more spiritual values, suggestions subtly applied to the idiosyncrasies of a given child. ‘Suggestion’ is too subtle to be illustrated with advantage: Dr. Stephen Paget holds that it should be used only as a surgeon uses an anesthetic; but it is an instrument easy to handle, and unconsidered suggestion plays on a child’s mind as the winds on a weathercock.Vol. 6, Chapter 5
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