We Need to Take the ‘Grind’ Out of Education (Thoughts on Thomas Gradgrind)


We all hijack quotes for our own purposes. The following are among my favorites. They come from the mouth of Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian school board superintendent in Charles Dickens's Hard Times. For me, the quotes below speak to the modern obsession with the so-called STEM subjects and the emphasis on cold, dry facts. Not that I think education can do without a greater emphasis on logic and clear-thinking, or that I am advocating a more fluffy, 'spiritual' approach to education. But I do think there is an ever increasing need to de-Gradgrind education (or to 'de-grind' it, if you'll allow the license). We need to include the emotional, the artistic and the philosophical, not to mention all those lovely 'soft' skills so many people are talking about these days. And it isn't enough to just chuck a token 'A for Arts' into STEM to make it STEAM. These things need equal weight, not token representation – as indeed Mr Gradgrind himself discovers later in the book.

Another issue which Gradgrind throws to light, and one which is still so prevalent today, is the view that children's minds are like gardens, which need to be carefully planted and trimmed and tended and formed (and ruthlessly weeded). We now know, of course, that their minds are more like a rainforest: teeming with life and growth, filled with verdant mysteries, potential discoveries and unique richness, and we need to take care that we don't kill off more than we allow to flourish.


Here are the quotes:


“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!”

“You are to be in all things regulated and governed,” said the gentleman, “by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don't walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don't find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,” said the gentleman, “for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.”




    • Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class. It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all is what school is all about!


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