What can be inferred from Chapter 8 of Great Expectations about Charles Dickens' attitudes or ideas about education?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Chapter 8 of Dickens' Great Expectations is about Pip's trip to town, overnight stay with the "corn-chandler and seedsman" Mr. Pumblechook, his introduction to Estelle, and his meeting with Miss Havisham. There are only four indirect references to education that might be drawn upon to infer any of Dickens' ideas about education, ad it might be taking a textual liberty to apply these references to education as they reflect more directly upon upbringing rather than education. The incident that most likely indicates an idea on education comes while Pip is breakfasting with Mr. Pumblechook on the day of his visit to Miss Havisham.

Pip has said good morning to Mr. Pumblechook and is looking forward to eating the meager breakfast provided for him when his desire "to get a bite or a sup" was interrupted by Pumblechook's arithmetic quizzes which continued unabated throughout Pip's breakfasting time. From this may be extrapolated an inference that while Dickens' knew learning calculations about mathematics was valuable, necessary, and right, learning must be meted out justly at appropriate times and with due consideration to a child's physical and mental needs:

And how should I be able to answer, dodged in that way, in a strange place, on an empty stomach! I was hungry ....

The second instance ties in thematically with the one above as they both consider the justice or injustice with which children are raised and taught, or educated. Pip muses over the reality that because his sister had raised him without respect or admiration for him and as a result had raised him without justice he was now "morally timid and very sensitive." You might paraphrase this as unable to speak his own mind to reprimand and fend off unjust treatment and lacking in feeling his value. Dickens has Pip struggle to find the right "name for" describing what he felt, "I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry--I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart--God knows what its name was ...." Existentialist, modernists and postmodernists have now provided us with the name for what Pip felt: It is dehumanization: Pip was dehumanized by unjust upbringing and its attendant education. It may be inferred that Dickens' idea of education includes respect and admiration that results in knowledge of self-worth and moral integrity and in an ability to have a morally sound mind of one's own

The third and fourth instances go together. Pip wishes that Joe had been better raised and better taught so that then he himself would also be “more genteely” and knowledgeable and therefore now--such a little thing, yet so very important to a person who has been dehumanized and is now "morally timid and shy"--know to call the knave a knave instead of a Jack (of course this in not now a contemporary problem). In addition, on Pip's four mile walk home, he demonstrates that he has learned to despise himself and feel inferior because he feels the pain of not receiving a just upbringing and a more genteel education: "I was in a low-lived bad way." From this it can be inferred that Dickens' idea of education is that it must elevate all children out of "low-lived" ways and into the converse, high-lived ways, so that they might be moral successes as well as successes in making a living, the last of which is what Joe's focus was on regarding Pip.

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