How does Dickens attack the contemporary education theory in Hard Times?
Mr. Gradgrind is famous for his utilitarian philosophy of education. His approach to instructing his "pitchers" is to try and produce robots that operate without emotion, feeling or empathy, and only act based on "facts." Perhaps the most interesting chapter to analyse with regard to his approach to education is Chapter 2 of Book the First, which is rather ironically called "Murdering the Innocents." His approach to education can be summarised quite aptly by referring to his charges as "pitchers" that were to be "filled full of facts." Note the following quote:
Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.
Note Dicken's critical commentary on his belief that education should "blow them clean out of the regions of childhood." Interestingly, he is described as being "charged with a grim mechanical substitute," which illustrates his desire to form children into little machines that behave according to quantifiable rules. Thus it is that a "horse" to the mind of Mr. Gradgrind is easily defined as:
"Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but required to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."
Stripping such objects of all fantasy, imagination and emotion, which of course is what Sissy Jupe struggles so much to understand, fortunately.
However, as the novel progresses, the shortcomings of this educational system are made abundantly clear by the character of Louisa, who is a perfect product of her father's system, and is left to live a life that she is not able to emotionally enjoy or appreciate, having abandoned her own feelings so long ago.