Essay on The Utilitarian Education System

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Hard Times, written by Charles Dickens, was written during the early 1800’s- a time when utilitarian ideas were spreading throughout Europe. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that actions that benefit a majority and promote happiness are right. In the classroom, these ideas are taught through facts. This is similar to positivism, or the philosophy that metaphysical statements are meaningless because they cannot be proven correct through facts. Dickens openly expresses his dislike for the utilitarian education system in his book through the teachers, pupils, settings, effect on characters, and chapter titles. The book begins with Mr. Gradgrind’s words: ‘Now, what I want is facts.’ (1,1 p11) It is a statement so clear and so plain, and…show more content…
The pupils of Gradgrind’s school are taught to follow a certain style of thinking. An ideal student is symbolized by Bitzer. One of Gradgrind’s obvious favorites, Bitzer recites any necessary facts and follows the utilitarian way of thinking, but is clearly robbed of his childhood. Dickens cleverly makes this apparent in Bitzer’s appearance. With an unnaturally white complexion and light colored hair and eyes, Bitzer looks as though he would ‘bleed white’ (1,2 p14) This image of a lifeless, unwholesome child is what Dickens believes will happen to the youth of the country if they continue to be educated in this way. In contrast, however, Sissy Jupe is dark haired, dark skinned, and seems to shine. Her sunny nature and her unselfish attitude is the change that Dickens wants to see. At school, Mr. M’Choakumchild asks Sissy what she thinks about a town that holds one million inhabitants if only twenty-five of them starved to death. To which Sissy replies, ‘it must be just as hard on those who starved, whether the others were a million, or a million million.’ (1, 4 p.64) This answer is the complete opposite of utilitarian thinking- this town benefits a large majority, but Sissy does not think it matters; suffering is still suffering. She is what Dickens wants students to be: emotional, caring, and youthful. Although she was ridiculed for an answer like this in class, she ends up better off later in the story. Because Sissy is never corrupted with the utilitarian ideas, she
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