Those of you with some knowledge of Education history write a short paragraph stating whether you think Dickens’s picture of the mid-nineteenth Century classroom is exaggerated or is true to what was happening at the time.
According to my opinion, education during the Victorian Era is one of the most interesting aspects of literature for which I have deepen my knowledge during my studies in Italy.
I think the picture on my cover page of this blog, perfectly represents a mid-nineteenth century classroom because it shows exactly the scenario in schools at that time: grossly overcrowded classes, as they usually were, very bare, often with windows located high up so that children could not see out, without playgrounds and lacking any kind of personality.
Many children during the Victorian age didn’t even go to school and more than half of them grew up without knowing how to read or write. Most of the poor children were forced to work in factories up to 10 hours a day earning money for their families growing in this way illiterate. There was no law until the end of the 19th century that would impose compulsory education and until the school had to be paid, many families couldn’t afford that charge for their children.
In 1870 it was finally introduced , for which children from 5 to 13 years old had to go to school and parents could pay only a small amount of the cost.
In the picture is evident how boys and girls were forced to sit apart. They were separated the whole time, having their own entrance and playground. They were therefore taught in the same classroom but they would still sit separately.
Punishment was another evident factor in Victorian schools: the teacher generally used a cane to punish naughty children, that was given on the hand or the bottom, or sometimes given across the back of the legs. Children were punished for being rude, answering back, speaking out of turn, in fact anything that displeased the teacher.
But the most horrible aspect i found about this system was how children were ridiculed
and made ignorant. Those who were slow at their lessons, or dumb, were made to wear a dunce’s hat, a pointed hat with the letter D on it and had to stand in a corner for an hour or more, in front of all the rest of the class. Completely ignoring children in this way led to learning difficulties or disabilities, that looked just as rebellious children. Even left handed children were punished and made to use their right hand!! This made me reflect a lot because we think that this is absolutely crazy and impossible, but it happened.
About school’s conditions Charles Dickens wrote:
“Dark, dingy, cold and miserable B.S.S. of my time…I never saw a fire, there was no gas. Light and heat cost money, and had to be done without. Besides, these luxuries would tend to make the boys effeminate and the object then was, to turn out hardy boys…”
Charles Dickens took an intense interest in education and described ironically the scenario in his novel Hard Times. For Dickens, a victorian school’ system could be the breeding ground for young, cunning criminals or, on the other hand, produce “unimaginative, machine-like pupils ready for the industrial factor”.
In those schools, the emphasis was on facts and assessment, on recitation and repetition. Not on imagination, games, motivation, fun and creativity. In Hard Times, Thomas Gradgrind the headmaster of the school, says:
“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”
Dickens believes that children should be taught to use their imagination and to think for themselves as well as being taught facts. He also believes that the attitude from the education teachers towards learning is wrong, they believe that to be the perfect student is to know a great deal of facts.
I find absolutely interesting and touching speaking about all this, because one daymy desire it to be a teacher and also because I already have had a great opportunity to teach to primary school children, which was one of the best experiences in my life. I find it absolutely important to study in a creative environment which encourages critical thinking. Especially children’s desire of imagination needs to be fed and stimulated and we don’t have to limit them because “only those who can see the invisible can do the impossible!” and children need to grow up believing that magic exists!