Compare the ways the Education system is depicted in “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens and “A Kestrel for a Knave” by Barry Hines Hard Times by Charles Dickens is set in a fictional town called “Coketown” in the 1850’s. A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines is set in Barnsley in 1960s. Both towns are industrial and employment is found mainly in factories and mines. A Kestrel for a Knave is based around a school and the first three chapters of Hard Times take place in a school.
In Hard Times Gradgrind, who believes in utilitarianism, runs the school. The school is designed to produce useful, fact filled humans who will work well in factories or mines and will not cause trouble as they have little imagination and lack their own opinion. The children are treated as products in factories and they are referred to as numbers. This system aims to avoid personality expressed by names and individuality is frowned upon as it is seen as a threat to the extreme control that Gradgrind holds.
In A Kestrel for a Knave the secondary modern school is run by Gryce. It accommodates the failures of the 11+ exam; those destined for working class jobs. Pupils face harsh punishments, that are often violent, and are suppressed by the authority. The boys, however, still rebel against the system as eventually the punishments become a way of life. Dickens presents Gradgrind as a hard man and this is reflected in his name which is harsh and blunt. Barry Hines present Gryce in a similar way but his name evokes images of slime, grease and evilness.
Gryce’s system is one of failure, the boys have failed their 11+ and therefore will be subjected to an education lacking in opportunity and a life of manual work. Gryce talks at the pupils rather than to them as their opinion is not valued and they rarely have a chance to explain themselves. This attitude maybe due to his many years in teaching which result in him having heard it all before. A particular event during which an innocent boy is punished with the cane highlights this.
Gryce refuses to listen to the boy and assumes that he has done something wrong even though he is merely bringing a message. The effect of the system on the pupils is blatant, they have a negative attitude towards education caused by the harsh punishment and lack of rewards and praise. However they are not stopped from rebelling against the system, opposing rules and standing up for themselves.
Gradgrind’s system appears to dehumanise the pupils and individualism is not encouraged. A pupil who is a success of Gradgrind’s school would be brainwashed, empty of personality but full of unimportant information. During the lesson about facts in the beginning chapters of Hard Times Gradgrind’s teaching methods are made clear. He uses his control to humiliate a pupil in front of the rest of the class. Sissy is the girl who is randomly picked from the class by Gradgrind who is prepared to brainwash the children with a lesson about facts. The girl’s father works for the circus, this fact does not please Gradgrind and so he covers up this fact with lies ‘”He doctors sick horses, I dare say” “Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon”‘
It appears that if anyone else were to say something like this it would be lies and fiction, both of which Gradgrind hates. However Gradgrind’s control is so strong that the lies he tells are believed and become facts. The girl’s confidence is undermined further when she is asked to describe a horse. The school’s ideal pupil is asked the same question and produces the perfect response, not the hesitation of Sissy but a list of meaningless and thoughtless facts.
Bitzer, who is the school’s vision of perfection appears dull and pale “if he were cut, he would bleed white.” Whereas Sissy who has not yet become fully educated by Gradgrind still appears alive. “She seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun.” She is also positioned in the classroom so that she receives the most light from the beam of sunshine. This makes her appear special and maybe even heavenly. Dickens uses this idea to highlight the difference between Gradgrind’s ideal and Sissy who has not yet given into the dehumanisation.