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Hard Times - a look at Victorian education and the first part of the novel.

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Introduction

The education system in the 19th century was one of the more prominent floors in society. Trainee teachers usually began work around 14 years of age, predictably resulting in poor quality teaching. Subjects and topics were drilled repeatedly until set deep into the children's memories. Numbers of children to a class were incredibly high, meaning there was a huge lack min teacher - pupil relationship. If you happened to be particularly bright then you were likely to be dragged behind whereas if you were unfortunately slow, then you would be left behind with no special help or encouragement. Authorities were very domineering; everybody was expected to be able to follow the system, personal differences were not taken into account in any way productive. Corporal punishment is another feature commonly used by Victorian teachers; children were often beaten because of mistakes, and as you can imagine, violence from teachers was a frequent event mainly due to the narrow minded peremptory conditions. Evidently, the consequences of such an education produced uniformity to such a degree that linked each child into the system. The sense of depersonalisation that consumed the tender young imaginations, so vivid and active - the impersonal existence that dissolved away any trace of flourishing enthusiasm and discarded the dregs; deadpan, stunted adults. ...read more.

Middle

The massive contrast between Sissy and Bitzer's character continues right through to the way they look and carry themselves. Sissy blushes and curtseys when Gradgrind draws attention to her showing that she is emotionally conscious and aware of her situation, whereas Bitzer has no other notable reaction other than the 'correct' answer to Gradgrind's question. Bitzer's appearance is the complete opposite of Sissy: 'so light eyed and light haired that the self same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed.' Bitzer's seeming deficiency in colour strongly suggests that being part of the education system has drawn out of him the fullness of being a child. The way he reacted to Gradgrind's attention was the way Gradgrind would have every child react - but Sissy didn't. I think Gradgrind has every intention of converting Sissy and by humiliating her I expect other children in the class would be coaxed into doing things his way. The government officer is reasonably similar to Gradgrind in several respects; he too believes that anything other than facts must be wrong - whether this is a statement, a thought or even an object: 'what you don't see in fact, you are not to have anywhere'. He makes it quite clear that fact is taste, and that one must 'never fancy'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Although the little Gradgrinds are said to have everything, the reader can clearly see that this is only materialistically speaking; they still have the desire the have fun, and to have fancies. Unfortunately this is completely contradictory to the way in which Gradgrind has brought them up. Education has progressed to such an extent over the past century; and by reading this extract I realise just how grateful I am that I'm being educated in the way of the 21st century. The lack of creativity in Victorian education absolutely horrifies me (probably due to my love of expressive arts), and I think that there is no way that the humiliation and dehumanisation could have had any positive affect on the children. There was no stimulation or variations of syllabus for different levels of academic intelligence and I think that the introduction of these things have had a positive and productive outcome. I am curious to read on having reached this point, especially to look into how the young Gradgrinds turn out. I'd also like to see how Sissy is affected by the system - if she is at all. One of the things that really makes me want to read on, is the introduction of several new characters fairly early in the story; the way they are linked to each other and how they differ as individuals seems to entice my imagination - I want to know what's going to happen next. ...read more.

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