Hard Times

The one most necessary thing in education, according to Mr. Gradgrind, a retired hardware merchant of Coketown, was facts. In his harsh and somewhat closed view, all human events were susceptible of measurement; they could be reduced to balances with so many facts on one side and so many facts on the other side. According to him, admirations, imagination and even sentiment were useless and disturbing factors that had a tendency to destroy the balance, and should therefore, be eliminated by every possible means. The chief means for such elimination he believed, was education. On these principles, Mr. Gradgrind set up a school where just like with members of his own family, the principles of his "hard and fast system" were rigidly instilled in the minds of his students. Such pupils of the Gradgrind school were continually crammed with facts from day to day until they 'spilled over 'with them. Such facts were to remain in the mind, pressed down in all forms of memory until all finer sensibilities were deadened.
As dramatic and unhearted as it may sound, that is precisely what Mr. Gradgrind wished to accomplish. In my opinion, however, he was not an unkind man at all. He believed absolutely that he was doing a good deed. He was affectionate in his way; but he studiously repressed all forms of spontaneous affection and as his children grew up, it came to be realized that he was not in sympathetic touch with them. This was especially apparent with Mr. Gradgrind's two older children, Louisa and Tom. Tom became morose and discontented, while Louisa stayed somber and hopeless and neither of them like their home, which in actuality, the Gradgrind school was based on and it's teachings were very similar.
The rigorous program taught by Mr. Gradgrind was not concurrent with many of the more common teaching theories and practices of today. It is generally accepted that in modern times, instruction be divided to coerce the student into utilize their three key learning areas: The cognitive, affective and the psychomotor area. The affective area deals with feelings or emotions, which Mr. Gradgrind ignored. The cognitive area emphasizes problem-solving, but also stresses much more creativity than Mr. Gradgrind wanted to deal with while psychomotor area involves simple motor skills such as handwriting and speech which of course were essential even in his plan.
The circus which stayed in Coketown for quite some time was somewhat of an opposing body on a small, hardly noticeable scale to the works and intent of Mr. Gradgrind. It's emotional excitement by itself was contradictory to Gradgrind's teachings. Even though, the circus clown enrolled his daughter, Cecillia in the school (which was how she originally came to stay with the Gradgrinds), Mr. Gradgrind could not initially accept their behavior which I believe (below the surface) was more existential than his.
Since most existentialists believe that man is free to reflect, make decisions, and set goals, the circus definitely leaned more towards such philosophy than did an entrepreneurial man who created a strict curriculum of facts with barely any emotions.
The circus members were more free to roam and live life "day by day". Examples are the sudden emotional whim on which Cecillia had to decide to come and stay with the Gradgrinds and most importantly, the way her father helped to hide Tom when he was running from his crime. Such things were typical only of the circus life and not of its opposite, The Gradgrind world.
Existentialism was also the most effective philosophical theory at the novel's end. Out of Tom, Louisa and Mr. Gradgrind, the only one who I view as truly being happy and making a change for the better, was Tom. Louisa was left in the same dreary monotonous state, but her only contentment now would be to know that Tom is happy in the New World where he is free to roam and commit himself to his own projects; clearly so he became an existentialist. Mr. Gradgrind was probably somewhat educationally enlightened by the whole experience but continued to sit in Parliament and really in my opinion, did not change much. Certainly, his educational theories did not prove effective in anyway. Rebellion is an undeniable part of human nature when a part of us is suppressed. As I wrote, Mr. Gradgrind attempted to suppress