How does Dickens present his views on education in hard times?

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How does Dickens present his views on education in hard times?

Hard times is set in the 1840’s in the North of England. It’s set at a
time when Britain is changing dramatically because of the Industrial
Revolution, which is mainly affecting this part of Britain. This
revolution moved much of the work from the country into towns and
cities, and small cramped villages were built around the factories and
mills to house the workers. Dickens novel ‘hard times’ was set during
this time.

Dickens uses many techniques throughout the novel to show his views on
education to his readers, the first of which is to create different
characters, some of which contrast each other in different ways . Two
of such Characters are Sissy Jupe and Bitzer. They differ in the ways
they have been taught and the ways they see the education system.
Bitzer is a model student, he has always strictly followed the system
and been taught exactly how the system requires him to be taught. He
is shown as lifeless and colourless, ‘the boy was so light-eyed and
light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what
little colour he ever possessed.’ This gives the effect that he has
been drained of life and everything else but facts. When asked, Bitzer
describes a Horse as a ‘Quadruped’ and ‘graminivorous’ and gives
endless facts about the animal. Although this description is very
factual and impressive, the use of long complex words and the amount
of facts show that he has simply been taught these facts, and probably
has never even seen a Horse. Sissy on the other hand does not
understand how to factually define a Horse when asked, this is because
she has been brought up with Horses all her life and they are too
familiar and important to her just to be described in facts. This is
one way that Dickens tries to show to his audience that this type of
education is wrong, the teaching of bare facts limits the imagination
of the student and a more practical way of teaching, like Sissy has
had, would help the children understand the facts that they are being
taught, instead of just learning them.

Dickens also shows the characters of some of the staff at the school
to make his views known. Mr Gradgrind is the first to be introduced,
from the onset Dickens portrays him as ‘squared’ , both in his
appearance and character, he reveals little about him apart from the
fact he is rigid, and has little individuality. This is emphasized by
the repletion of ‘square’ and ‘speaker’, and by this he is shown to

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"How does Dickens present his views on education in hard times?." 26 Mar 2017

be stubborn, and has authority. Mr Gradgrind believes in teaching
facts and ‘facts alone’. The repetition of ‘facts’ by Dickens shows
clearly Gradgrind’s views on education, that only bare facts should be
taught, anything else would be a waste of time and serve no purpose.
Mr Gradgrind is a very stubborn man with no self-doubt whatsoever. He
addresses Sissy as ‘girl number twenty’. He gives no individuality to
the students, and as with the teachers, Mr Gradgrind sees the students
to have no personality and are all the same. When he talks to Sissy he
is not content first with her name, ‘Sissy is not a name, don’t call
yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’ This is because Sissy is
more of a nickname, the fact is that she is called Cecilia, and only
facts are acceptable. Also he is not happy with her fathers job, to
work in the circus is unacceptable as it promotes fun and imagination,
as he works with Horses he instead thinks of him as a veterinary
surgeon, as that requires knowledge of facts. Dickens describes the
circus in a comical manner showing that it is to be enjoyed rather
than ridiculed. To change the opinions of his audience from that of
Gradgrind’s he shows both sides of the argument but satirises
Gradgrind’s views.

Dickens then introduces the teacher, himself manufactured in much the
same way as ‘piano forte legs’, showing that he is also part of an
industry, like goods produced in a factory. Dickens creates the name
‘ M’Choakumchild which alone seems to pose a threat to the children.
Dickens also uses a long list of complicated subjects like
‘Orthography, etymology, syntax and prosody, to satirise the education
system and show that it is ridiculous to teach young children such
things. In effect Dickens says that the teachers had been over taught
and maybe if M’ Choakumchild had ‘learnt a little less, how
infinitely better he might have taught much more!’ This is saying that
if there was slightly less room for facts in his brain there would be
more room for thought. Dickens ends by comically referring to Morgiana
in the Forty Thieves suggesting that it was impossible to ‘kill
outright the robber fancy’ instead that they only ‘maim and distort’.
This is saying that it isn’t always possible to fill the student
totally with facts , but to fill them to a point where they have
little room for other things such as imagination.

Another character introduced by Dickens is the Government officer.
Dickens creates this character to show how force was used to educate
the students. He forced facts onto the children so they had no option
but to learn them. He is described by Dickens as a ‘professional
pugilist’ . He is shown to seem hard, almost brutal ,and have
authority, ‘He was certain to knock the wind out of common sense’.
This again shows the staff’s views on what should be taught. Dickens
though shows his opinion on the education system, again that it is
wrong, and something to be ridiculed. He again uses satire, mocking
the Government officer by the mixed answer to his ridiculous question
‘would you paper a room with representations of Horses , showing that
the children have no idea of the answer and are worried to get it
wrong. The children don’t know the answer because the question is not
one of fact.

Out of all the characters Dickens creates to show his views,
Gradgrind’s children, Thomas and Louisa, demonstrate his views best of
all, as they are the ones that are being effected by the education
system. Dickens uses the acts and feelings of these children to argue
his point that the school system is wrong. As far as education goes
Thomas and Louisa are deemed to have the best, as there father is a
very knowledgeable man. They have a ‘model house’ and they are seen as
‘model children’. But still they are not complete, Dickens suggests to
the reader that the children lack imagination and fun. ‘No little
Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow
with the crumpled horn who tossed the dog who worried the cat who
swallowed Tom Thumb: it had never heard of those celebrities, and only
had been introduce to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped
with several stomachs.’

This is represented when they are found by there father at the circus.
Louisa is described having a ‘starved imagination keeping life in
itself somehow, which brightened it’s expression’. Here Dickens is
describing how Louisa knows so many facts she hasn’t got much to
imagine, but what she does imagine makes her happy. Mr Gradgrind is
more confused than angry at his children as he doesn’t see their need
for fun or to use their imagination. He describes them as ‘his own
Mathematical Thomas’ and ’his own metallurgical Louisa’, which
suggests that they are too smart to be interested by a circus and have
no need to be there. The fact that the staff in the school cant see
this is the main problem and the main view that Dickens is addressing.
Presenting them through the children’s thoughts gives the effect that
they are the ones making the point not Dickens.

Dickens main view in the novel is that the ways the students are
taught are wrong and are based too much on just learning facts. He
believes that children should be taught to use their imagination and
to think for themselves as well as being taught facts. He also
believes that the attitude from the education staff towards learning
is wrong, they believe that to be the perfect student is to know a
great deal of facts, and to think for themselves is not an issue; but
Dickens does not believe this.

He presents these views in different ways, most of which though
include using other characters to his advantage, mainly the school
staff. Dickens tells us of their views and uses satire to make his
point. He comically describes some off the staff both in their
appearance and character. Doing this makes us think of them less
seriously therefore taking their views less seriously, which promote
his own. He uses language very well, he uses many metaphors and is
very descriptive, which helps us to understand the character he is
portraying. It is apparent that Dickens’ purpose in the novel is to
make the reader understand and agree with his views on education,
which he does both cleverly and effectively.

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