Hard Times – Charles Dickens
‘Discuss the theme of education in Hard Times’
Charles Dickens was a great author of the 19th Century and his booksare recognised and loved nation wide. Many people understand themeaning to his books, as they are not just plain fiction. In the novelHard Times Dickens intensely criticises the British system ofeducation and how it has evolved over the years: the 19th Centuryphilosophy of ‘Utilitarianism’. Dickens believed this system was afailure, as it changed children’s minds and morals, and it is thisnovel that he attempts to show the horrors that this system hascreated.
A principle was formed by Jeremy Bentham, the eighteenth centuryphilosopher, calculating ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.This theory explained that self-interest was the primary motivatingforce behind all human conduct; people strived for pleasure and triedin vain to avoid pain. Bentham advocated a system of calculation knownas ‘moral arithmetic’. This was used whenever a decision had to bemade about a particular choice of action, be it an individual deed ora law affecting million. The equation was a simple one: pleasure vs.pain. If all the factors fell in the direction of pleasure for thegreatest number then the appropriate course of action was adopted.However, it failed to take account of the happiness and well-being ofthose who did not belong to the greatest number. It also presumed thatevery human being on earth prized nothing but material values. Thecatastrophes that this pathetic philosophy caused are explored andcriticised by Dickens in the novel Hard Times.
The philosophy also emphasised the practical usefulness of things.This meant that art, imagination, pl…
…ildren’s education. The grim pursuit of facts is contrasted with thecolourful and rich life of the imagination as experienced by thecircus folk. When one of them is subjected to the rigours ofGradgrind’s educational philosophy her human nature naturally rejectsthe attacks made on it: Sissy Jupe leans nothing from the artificiallyimposed educative processes familiar in the Gradgrind household. Nut,as we see later in the novel, her own essential goodness isinstrumental in educating those suffering from the inadequacies of theGradgrind philosophy.
The children are denied the natural pursuits of childhood such asplay, fantasy, fun and entertainment. They are ‘dead’ as children andare forced, by Gradgrind’s system, to become unnatural children. Theyare therefore without essential qualities needed in adulthood and asof this they become in humane.