Dickens presents his criticism of the education for the labouring class in a sarcastic manner. He has created the classroom as a factory. The purpose of the education in Coketown is to root out the innocence and imagination of young children so they will grow into utilitarian robots expecting nothing more than the drudgery of industrial life. Dickens uses specific methods to put his point across of ‘bad education’ by using negative views. This is done with exaggeration because he wants the reader to think the same as what he thinks so it seems like education was extreme and intense. In ‘Hard Times’, the teachers fulfil the excessive teaching skills as they just want the ‘little vessels’ to be filled with facts. Dickens also presents a contrast between two children to show how differently each child gets treated because of their background or their attitude towards things other than facts. Another method that he uses is making the characters stand out through their names to symbolise their personality.
Throughout chapters 1-3, Dickens emphasises on the word ‘facts’ because he wants to continuously present and criticise the education for the labouring class. ‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life…’ This is the opening sentence of the novel and straight away you have a vague idea of the extremism of teaching. Also the word ‘fact’ is in capital letters and this signifies the importance of learning nothing but facts. The introduction of the teacher has a lot of exaggeration at hand. Thomas Gradgrind is a middle-class, self-made man. ‘A man of realities…a man of facts and calculations’. Dickens has made this character a very hard and cold teacher who knows what he wants from the students. ‘He seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts…’ Dickens uses military imagery to show how the teacher wants to get rid of childhood imagination.
‘He seemed a galvanising apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away’. Dickens has described this as some sort of physics experiment because ‘galvanising’ is the process named after Galvan in the stimulation of animal tissue by electric currents. But in this case it is the young children that are being stimulated with factual currents. Dickens has made the teacher to be very hard-hearted and cruel and this is to present his criticism on the education for the labouring class because he evidently disagrees with this concept of teaching and he wants the readers to feel the same way by using the different language techniques and this is mostly done through exaggeration.
Dickens introduces two pupils on the scene, Sissy and Bitzer. He has made a comparison between these children so the reader can identify how backgrounds can affect pupil’s presentation towards the teacher. ‘He belongs to the horse-riding, if u please, sir’. Sissy’s father works in the circus and because of her father’s profession, she has an imagination. On the other hand, Bitzer is a very boring child and all he can do is take in facts with no imagination.
The reader is unaware of Bitzer’s background so far, and this could be because Dickens wants the reader to decide for themselves what his background is. ‘…the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun’. This could be due to her imagination that she stores. Whereas Bitzer presents a different description ‘…the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed’. He seems very dull and unexcitable because all of his imagination has been drained out of him. Dickens has clearly indicated that children need imagination. Overall, he has shown that there is wholesomeness in Sissy because of the imagination that accompanies her and there is lifelessness in Bitzer because all of his imagination has been sucked out of him.
Dickens has named the teachers so that it reflects towards their characters. This is very effective because it contributes to his criticism on the education for the labouring class. ‘Mr.Gradgrind’ sounds like ‘grinding’ and therefore indicates the grinding down of the little children’s imagination. ‘Mr.M’Choakumchild’ sounds like ‘choke-a-child’ which is very negative for a teachers name. Having these names on teacher’s shows a clear indication on how extreme they were on their students and how forceful school life was for children.
Dickens disapproved on the way teachers were trained because everything was over done. The teachers use to be sent in groups of around hundred and all learn the same thing. ‘He and some one hundred and forty other schoolmasters had been lately turned at the same time, in the same factory, on the same principle…’ specific subjects had to be studied by trainee teachers and they would have to learn things that they do not need to know about. This is what Dickens disagreed about because they learnt so much that was worthless and then they would teach and also intimidate young kids with all of the knowledge they have.
Overall, Dickens has presented his criticism on the education for the labouring class via many techniques. Some of which are through exaggeration so that the viewer starts to realise that the education was not good in those times. Also with the comparison of Sissy Jupe and Bitzer, because it shows that one is wholesomeness because they still have their imagination to accompany them with the description of themselves and the boldness that Sissy carries, where as the other-Bitzer is pale and boring and can only absorb ‘facts’ and therefore is lifeless. The symbolism through the name that reflects on the characters of the teachers also supports how bad the education was for the labouring class because their teachers were teaching as if in military school-‘he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts’ Dickens disagreed with the way teachers would train because the majority of what they would learn was irrelevant.