Charles Dickens' Hard Times
The death of God for many in the Victorian era due to scientific discoveries carried with it the implication that life is nothing more than a kind of utilitarian existence that should be lived according to logic and facts, not intuition or feeling – that without God to impose meaning on life, life is meaningless. Charles Dickens, in Hard Times, parodies this way of thought by pushing its ideologies and implications to the extreme in his depiction of the McChoakumchild School.
The McChoakumchild School is based on the idea that, since life is nothing more than an accumulation of facts, education should be nothing more than their acculturation. This is clear from the opening scene (in a chapter titled "The One Thing Needful") in which the reader is presented with an incredibly enthusiastic speaker addressing the students of the school and articulating its philosophy: "Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else" (11). It is clear that speaker places all his faith in (scientific) facts. In this exaggerated ideology, they even assume a religious significance, which can be seen by the author's capitalization of the word facts, the sowing (also the title of Book One) / planting metaphor which is reminiscent of the biblical parable about sowing the seeds of faith (in this case fact), and the proselytizing rhetoric. Another example of this rhetoric can be found in chapter 5: "The McChoakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and everything was fact … and what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen" (31). The fact that this sounds like the winding-down of a sermon shows the reader the place in the social conscious scientific knowledge now assumes.
However, the consequences of this extreme approach to education are extremely damaging to the characters that are forced to endure it. The reader can see this coming especially clearly when Dickens pushes the extremes of this glorification of factual education to include the explicit prohibition of unstructured thought. After Mr. Gradgrind overhears Louisa using the phrase "I wonder" and instructs her to "never wonder," Dickens writes, "Herein lay the spring of the mechanical art and mystery of educating the reasons without stooping to the cultivations of the sentiments and affections. Never...