Study Guide

Hard Times Education

By Charles Dickens

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There is a strong case made in Hard Times that education is not simply the classroom experience of memorizing facts. The novel expresses the view that having an emotional component to our education is crucial. It's also shown in the novel that this kind of learning can happen at any time in life. Learning about the way other people live is the groundwork for valuing them as fellow creatures; learning about them only in terms of their productivity is a recipe for class warfare. If this proper groundwork is not laid, then a perverted kind of learning can take its place, full of cynicism and misanthropy.

Questions About Education

  1. In the "Characterization: Education" section, we worked out how Bounderby's educational history reveals a lot of information about his personality and his socio-economic status. Is there another character whose educational history we know reasonably well? Which aspects of his/her adulthood can be traced to childhood learning? Which can't be?
  2. Are there different kinds of education and learning shown in the novel? What are they? How do they function?
  3. What is Sissy going to tell her children about her own childhood and upbringing? How is she going to tell them?
  4. The first few chapters show a classroom that seems very concerned with logic and fact-based learning. How close to this ideal does it come? Are the kids learning logical ways of thinking about the world?

Chew on This

In the novel, learning is not a lifelong process. Whatever you don't master at a young age can never be taught in adulthood.

Sissy's quippy, Biblical retorts to the teachings of Mr. Gradgrind and the M'Choakumchilds sound good in the novel, but if followed on a grand scale would create anarchy, chaos, and national disaster.

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