The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by the Rev. M. R. Lutener.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 96-102

[Address delivered to the Altrincham Branch of the P.N.E.U.]

On taking up my pen to write on the subject of Education, there is for the moment only one idea quite clear before me, that I must have been in a most audaciously reckless frame of mind on the day that I accepted your invitation. It is partly to justify my own audacity that I commence with a quotation from Herbert Spencer that will be familiar to all of you, at any rate all who are members of the Parents' Union. "The greatest defect in our programme of education is entirely overlooked," says Spencer: "while many years are spent by a boy in gaining knowledge of which the chief value is that it constitutes 'the education of a gentleman'; and while many years are spent by a girl in those decorative acquirements which fit her for evening parties; not an hour is spent by either in preparation for the gravest of all responsibilities--the management of a family. And yet the subject which involves all other subjects, and therefore the subject in which all education should culminate, is the theory and practice of Education."

The results of this, which Spencer calls the greatest defect in our programme of education is thus described by [Jean Paul] Richter: "If the secret variances of a large class of ordinary fathers were brought to light, and laid down as a plan of studies and reading, catalogued for a moral education, they would run somewhat after this fashion: In the first hour, pure morality must be read to the child; in the second, mixed morality, or that which may be applied to one's own advantage; in the third, 'Do you not see that your father does so and so?' in the fourth, 'You are little, and this is only fit for grown-up people'; in the fifth, 'The chief matter is, that you should succeed in the world, and become something in the State'; in the sixth, 'Not the temporary but the eternal, determines the worth of a man'; in the seventh, 'Therefore rather suffer injustice and be kind'; in the eighth, 'But defend yourself bravely if any one attack you'; in the ninth, 'Do not make a noise, dear child'; in the tenth, 'A boy must not sit so quiet'; in the eleventh, 'You must obey your parents better'; in the twelfth, 'And educate yourself.' So by the hourly change of his principles, the father conceals their untenableness and one-sidedness. As for his wife, she is neither like him, nor yet like that harlequin who came on to the stage with a bundle of papers under each arm, and answered to the inquiry, what he had under his right arm, 'orders,' and to what he had under his left arm, 'counter-orders.' But the mother might be much better compared to a giant Briareus, who had a hundred arms, and a bundle of papers under each." This state of things is not readily to be changed. Slow, however, as must be any improvement, even that improvement implies the use of means; and among the means is discussion.

There, I take it, is the charter of the Parents' Union, and the reason for your presence here to-day. It is beginning to be realised that there is perhaps only one thing in this wide world that a man or woman attempts to do without any preliminary study or serious preparation, and that is the most difficult and most important thing of all, the education of their children.

We are here for discussion, to give a trial to the method of meeting the evil suggested by Herbert Spencer. Then, at the outset, let us have clearly before us what is the subject we are going to discuss; with all emphasis be it said, our subject is education and not mere instruction. That your children should be badly instructed in matters of geography, history, spelling, and so forth, is a matter of comparatively little importance; that they should be badly educated is simply ruin. It has been said, "Education is the end to be obtained, instruction is only one of the means;" or again, "Instruction is given in the class, education is given in the home, and amid natural surroundings."

This will be enough to indicate at starting the distinction between the two. The science of education is the science of building up a human character, and yet that statement fails to suggest the real difficulty of the matter; it is more than this, it is the science of making a human being build up his own character. Here indeed, at the outset is the first great point on which I want you to fix your attention, the great difficulty of the educational problem, the main difficulty with which you have to grapple. I can best bring it before you by an illustration; the training of a young animal is a comparatively simple matter, because you fix your whole attention on subduing the animal's will, conquering it by a system of quiet and firm persistence, securing obedience; but in the case of a child, the matter is not of this simple nature. You have got to face this, side by side with the fact that the character you are training is ruined, unless it learns the duty of obedience, to submit its will to others; it is equally ruined unless the will to do right is strengthened until it is the one paramount power of the man.

The first step in the scientific study of education, that is to say, compels you at once clearly and distinctly to face the crucial difficulty of the task you are undertaking--to train a will at the same time for submission and victory. To attempt to educate without even clearly recognising the nature of the task before you, is to plunge headlong into those hopeless inconsistencies which have ruined the characters of such numbers of children--e.g., to go on, the nature of the difficulty has only to be stated to lead you, I think inevitably, to this conclusion. No matter whether a man is Atheist, Sceptic, or Christian, the question of religion faces him at once--not as an accident, but as an utterly unavoidable factor on the first threshold of educational science. That paradox of subduing and strengthening the will, the basis and center of the whole educational process, must mean an appeal to a higher sanction, to a religion of some sort, disguise it under what name you will.

I say a religion of some sort, some power beyond the individual will. We say religion; the sceptic takes as a substitute one side of religion, practically the duty towards our neighbour, and calls it altruism.

I am not here now to contrast the relative educational values of the two appeals, the one to God, the other to an ideal of duty, but simply to insist on what is so often forgotten, that this appeal to a higher power is recognised as clearly by the sceptic as by the Christian, and in either case is the keystone of the whole edifice of education.

To attempt to educate children with the idea that religious education is a separate thing, of which more or less may be given--to treat it as a side issue, I don't say it is wrong, but simply idiotic; it is to display a total ignorance of the whole problem that you are not grappling with, but ignoring. The first necessity of education is consistency, and, in view of the nature of your task, there is no possibility of consistency unless either this idea of God or this ideal of duty is the perpetually displayed inspiration of the will that has got to be so strong and yet so submissive, if the character you are building is to reach the stature of a perfect man. Religion cannot stand as an accidental adjunct to educational work; it must be the heart and center of the whole of it; and if I have induced you to face fairly the first great problem that meets you in your character-building work--the paradox of a will trained for submission and for victory--then I defy you even to imagine a course of action intelligent and consistent unless the whole motive principle is not either God or Altruism.

I make no apology for this long delay on the very threshold of our study, for I believe it is the fact of all others most often forgotten, but I now pass on to the practical question: Does scientific study throw any light on this--how to bring great truths and principles to bear on practical education; how to make them, as it were, from being part of ourselves to become part of those committed to our care? Does it draw attention to the practical method and main instrument in moral education? There is one branch of science which during the last few years has made immense progress, which will, I am convinced, in the near future throw much light on this most important point of the educational problem.

We are perhaps at present hardly prepared to accept the discoveries of hypnotism as a serious contribution to educational science.

We hear that M. Voisin claims to have transformed by hypnotic suggestion a woman whose character was unbearable, and to have made her gentle and affectionate to her husband, and thenceforth free from exhibitions of temper; or we hear that Dr. Liebault succeeded, by means of a single suggestion, in making a persistently idle boy diligent for a period of six weeks. We hear these things, and we accept the statement with a smile, or cry out with horror that we would rather our wife or child were naturally bad than hypnotically good.

I agree with you in that, and yet I venture to maintain that the discoveries of the scientific hypnotists throw much light on the proper educational treatment of children, both in the nursery and the schoolroom; and I am going to ask you to consider very seriously the line that is already indicated in the small progress yet made in this dark science. But I must beg you to banish from your mind the picture of hypnotism that is probably most familiar to you; the sensational hypnotic exhibitions best known in England are a somewhat disgraceful parody of what is known as the greater hypnotism of the Paris school. The therapeutic hypnotism of the Nancy School is almost unknown popularly in England. I will quote a few words from a recent article by Lloyd Tuckey which may help to bring a truer picture before your minds:

"The theory that hypnotism, when used in the treatment of moral cases, subverts the free will, is erroneous; the originally healthy and well-disposed subject, who has sunk into habits of injurious self-indulgence through temptation from surroundings, exhaustion from overwork, or some other cause outside himself, has for the time being lost his free will; hypnotic suggestion does not contradict, but supports the will, until it is again strong enough to control the man."

I am sure you will not imagine that I am advocating the adoption of hypnotic treatment, even if this milder kind, in the nursery; the object of my quotation is only to show you how the most careful investigation of hypnotic phenomena is bringing the whole subject very closely into connection with the subject on which every educationalist is engaged. More and more it is made evident that scientific hypnotism has much to tell us that is worth our pondering over--you in your nursery, I in my parish, have some light to throw on the deepest mystery in education and religion alike--that mystery, the different parts of which we are looking at when we name those three unutterable contradictions--mutual responsibility, free will, and God's government. And the more closely we examine them, the more clearly I think we realize that the discoveries of the hypnotist are but additional emphasis laid on a conclusion to which our ordinary experience already pointed. For instance, when I say that the power of suggestion is the one great instrument which God has put into your hands for the education of your children, the only practical method of putting into effect the great moralising principle we first looked at, stating that I am stating no new thing, nothing that experience does not fully bear out, but I am stating a fact that the discoveries of scientific hypnotism have set before us in such a startling and thought-compelling manner, that it has almost the effect of a new revelation.

The infinite power of suggestion for good or evil was known before, was known by a thousand experiences of natural life; but in the light of the discoveries of hypnotic science, it assumes a terrible and vigorous reality. This hypnotism that startles you is the study of the conditions regulating the power of suggestion; it shows you its tremendous power over a patient isolated from all other counteracting influences. It shows you the power which you yourselves possess over others, only that power under natural conditions is counteracted by a thousand other influences perhaps as strong, perhaps stronger, than the force of your suggestion. But what I want you to notice is that your children are not under natural conditions, the counteracting influences are very few, and those few mainly the results of your own action. The child is unavoidably under conditions approaching the conditions of a hypnotic patient. The power of suggestion is without doubt, I think, the tremendously powerful instrument, sufficient, if properly used, to mould the characters of your children. One or two observations I will add, for the sake of brevity as disjointed notes, for consideration.

First, if you hand your children over to the charge of servants, you are deliberately transferring this tremendous power over your children's characters from yourselves to others.

Secondly, it has been argued, with at least a show of truth, and supported by evidence, that one-half of all the faults of children are the result of direct suggestions contained in the well-meant but utterly foolish words or actions of those in whose charge they are. As a partial explanation of this, I will remind you that a hypnotic patient, who has been assured that he is a pig, immediately proceeds to grunt, and otherwise act as he thinks a pig ought to act.

Thirdly, the force of your suggestion lies in its consistency with the one ruling principle of religion or altruism which has been before mentioned: every inconsistency of yours, whether of word or act, is a disturbing and counteracting force introduced by yourself; it is a counter-suggestion to the one great principle which is to be the moulding force of the character you are aiming to bring up.

Fourthly, the force of hypnotic suggestion depends on two things: the absence of counteracting influences, and the complete clearness and conviction with which it is delivered.

Fifthly, May I conclude this part of my subject with two examples of formula for childish faults? You cannot lie, because the strongest part of your nature is the spirit of God, and He is the truth; all your life you are trying to make this part of you stronger and stronger; therefore you hate all lies and meanness. You cannot sulk, because the greatest pleasure you have is to please and help others; but to sulk only means you want to displease those who have displeased you, therefore you hate sulkiness. I don't say that is the form, but it conveys the gist of the suggestion you are ever impressing on the child and gradually building into his character, and conveys the idea of how every particular suggestion is interwoven with, and receives strength from, the dominating suggestion of the whole educational process. Once again, in leaving this, infinitely the most important, part of my subject, will you pardon my dullness and length, since it is my conviction that if I have helped you even to realise the special difficulty of your task, even seriously to consider the tremendous instrument put into your hands for its accomplishment, then my paper has not been in vain?

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023