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Examine Dickens' presentation of the education system in 'Hard Times'.

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Introduction

Examine Dickens' presentation of the education system in 'Hard Times'. 'Hard Times' was written in the Victorian period around 1854 when work had became more important. Coketown is meant to represent a typical Victorian town where people were rapidly moving, to work in the mills. However there was no housing for these people and the town is very polluted. Life for the working class was hard; they became a 'unit' with no identity. In 'Hard Times' they are referred to as 'the hands' indicating they have lost their identity in the factory system and are only valued for their ability to work and produce goods using their hands. They worked long hours, many doing dangerous tasks, for very little money and lived in poor accommodation. The rich Victorians, generally, were in charge of the poor and could control them. The rich people lived in big houses, had access to entertainments like the theatre and could have their children home tutored. In this period there was no state funded education system, however many factory owners set up schools in towns for their workers children. This is the case in 'Hard Times'. Charles Dickens was appalled at the conditions for the working class and wrote the novel to show the middle and upper classes just how bad the conditions were. He hoped that after reading 'Hard Times' they would sympathise and understand the working class, and improve conditions for them. Dickens has a very negative view on the education system he felt it was useless and of no value to the children and their futures. There were lots of pupils in one classroom with boys and girls separated by a gap in the middle. The teachers were powerful and squeezed any individuality out of them and constantly promoted facts. They were taught in military style and not allowed to have any fun or 'fancy'. Many of the children were frightened at school. ...read more.

Middle

However their education runs on the same principles as what is taught in Gradgrind's school. Their education has never allowed them to 'learn the silly jingle, twinkle twinkle little star' they have never been allowed to have fun and play games. "Almost as soon as they could run alone, they have been made to run to the lecture room." Gradgrind's children are filled up with facts even more than the children in the school. They are not allowed story books or entertainment. But they still wonder what the circus is like and Louisa questions Sissy about her father; the clown. This shows the Gradgrind children want what they have been deprived of. This way of life for the Gradgrind children has 'damaged' them. "I was tired I have been tired a long time.... Of everything I think." Louisa is obviously depressed. Dickens uses her to convey just how damaging having no childhood is. But as Gradgrind is no longer capable of making judgements about feelings he is not aware how unhappy his own children are. "You are childish." Dickens uses irony and emphasises Gradgrind's views as Louisa is a child so why shouldn't she be childish. Dickens is suggesting that what Gradgrind believes children don't need is exactly what they do need to lead a happy life. Sissy has a good relationship with her father, they love each other and show that affection, they talk to each other, have fun together and support one another. The relationship between Louisa and her father is a contrast to that of Sissy and hers. Louisa cannot talk to her father about emotions or thoughts as he does not understand them or believe they are important. When he presents Mr Bounderby's proposal to Louisa he presents it as facts. "Now, where are the facts in this case...a large proportion of these marriages are contracted between parties of unequal ages." ...read more.

Conclusion

This shows Dickens' frustration with the quality of teaching. He feels that if teachers knew a few less facts then they might actually teach the children about the facts they do know, or allow them to imagine things and explore fiction, rather than just getting them to recite lots of facts which they don't understand and mean nothing to them. Through the authors intervention the reader becomes aware that 'Hard Times' is not just a novel. Dickens feels strongly about the education system and is frustrated at those who feel it is healthy and of value to children. 'Hard Times' could be said to be a satirical portrayal of education as Dickens scrutinises the system and picks out every bad aspect of it and uses irony to help him do this. He makes the reader see the bad things about the education system, and makes them look at the effects of it has on the children. The education system in 'Hard Times' is presented in a very negative way. It is shown to 'damage' the children and not actually teach them anything of any importance. Dickens uses many different techniques to make the reader aware of how bad the system is and also makes his own thoughts clear. I think Dickens would like to have seen education exercising the children's imaginations, allowing them to experience feelings and learn what they mean and how to deal with them. He would have liked to have seen the children actually been taught and allowed a greater freedom to do other things like play and imagine, rather than just reciting facts. Dickens makes it very clear throughout the novel that he feels fun should be on the curriculum and children should enjoy going to school and learning; they should be allowed to be children and enjoy childish things. From the futures Dickens created for the characters in 'Hard Times' we see that he felt if the curriculum was changed people would lead better, happier, fulfilled lives. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 Emma Lock 09/05/2007 ...read more.

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