Dickens' Hard Times as a Critique of the Educational System
Industrialization made Victorian England a brave new world. A world bereft of justice, humanity and emotion. In Hard Times, Dickens critiques this world in several ways; it's pollution problems, factory accidents, divorce laws, utilitarian ideals, and educational system. The goal of this essay is to focus strictly on Dickens critique of the educational system which was influenced by Industrialization. In his novel, Dickens shows us how children were indoctrinated at very early ages that "facts alone are wanted in life" (47). "The Gradgrind school in Hard Times was modeled on the so-called Birbeck Schools inaugurated by William Ellis in 1848 to teach principles of political economy to poor children. . . " (Thomas 52). The children were taught that they were not to do anything or believe anything which is contrary to fact. The "Gradgrindian educational project is based on . . . Enlightenment intuitions" (Wainwright 179); wherein, all knowledge must be verified by science. Teachers even went so far to say that: "Taste, is only another name for Fact" (51). In Hard Times, Dickens "attacks [this] education built on statistics, figures and facts . . ." (Taine 33). Dickens criticizes the Victorian educational system because it dehumanized the children, killed fancy, and destroyed the importance of emotion.
The Victorian educational system dehumanized the children by treating them like mathematical figures. It sought to turn them all into little utilitarian robots who were only interested in facts. As the children enter the class, they are described as "little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim" (48). Dickens describes the schoolroom as "a plain, bare, monotonous vault . . ."(47) where the "little pitchers . . . [would come] to be filled so full of facts"(48). Gradgrind calls the children "reasoning animals" (47) that need to be planted with facts and "nothing else." We then learn that the children were often referred to as numbers. Gradgrind calls on Sissy Jupe, our heroine, to define a horse. She is unable to give a scientific answer and so stands blushing:
" 'Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!' . . . 'Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy's definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours' . . . 'Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' " (49)
We immediately get upset at the idea of children being called by number and then stand in awe as Bitzer spits out sound bites of information. Dickens doesn't just tell us about the inhumanity, he makes us feel it by...