'It's a muddle,' is the way Stephen Blackpool puts it in Charles Dickens' Hard Times-as he tries to make sense of the injustices of the world he lives in. That dim and weighted world of back breaking labour -overseen by greedy, callous Masters.
In this world, the 'self made' men exemplified by Mr. Josiah Bounderby, a manufacturer, mill owner and tyrant believe that the poor deserve their poverty. Faceless 'Hands' complain because they expect to be "set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon, as a good many of ’em do!’
Poor Blackpool, a weaver in Bounderby's employ doesn't stand a chance at happiness in this muddle of a life. He has no hope of ever being with the woman he loves, is ostracized by his co-workers and sent packing by the boss.
Blackpool dies with the lingering feeling that it doesn't have to be a muddle if only others had a stab at shaping the works they live in.
The novel itself starts with a classroom scene where what is wrong with the world of work is equally wrong with the world of schooling.
"Now what I want is, Facts," says Thomas Gradrgrind, instructing the new teacher at his school. '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 be of service to them.
The children are warned that they should 'never wonder.' Sissy, a new student is told she is stupid and fanciful because she can not describe a horse factually. Louisa, daughter to Gradgrind and future wife to the far older Bounderby, and Tom junior her brother are wrung through their father's educational system- a system which demands that they not have feelings at all.
They end up emotional cripples; ruined by their father's system.
It's a hard, hard time.
The book was written during the Industrial Revolution, and the introduction of compulsory education. This is when the 'muddle' is created.
150 years later, despite our advances in technology, health and social and ethical rights, we are still living that muddle.The gap widens between those who have and those who don't.
Stephen's words still ring true today:
"Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, an’ wi’ what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin’, and how they never works us no nigher to onny distant object-‘ceptin awlus Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi’ your deputations to Secretaries o’ State ‘bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had’n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha’ growen an’ growen sir, bigger an’ bigger, broader an’ broader, harder an’ harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation. Who can look on’t sir, and fairly tell a man ‘tis not a muddle?"When it comes to education- we still don't get it.'Schools are failing,' is the refrain. 'Pour more money into schools,' they say. 'Schools kill creativity,' we hear.
But the cycle continues and the students get the blame. If you fail it is because you didn't work hard enough- you weren't good in school.
And like Stephen the 'losers' go through life feeling that something doesn't add up, but not knowing what.
But many of us are extracting ourselves from the muddle. When it comes to schooling, we are beginning to understand educational independence
We don't believe what we are told-that you can only get educated at school and that is the only valuable education you can get.
We challenge that notion. We discover that what you learn by your own initiative has more worth than what is imposed on you in an institutional setting.
We start by believing in ourselves. Trusting in ourselves means giving up beliefs we have about ourselves and what we can or can't do.
We must go into it wholesome, clear about our goals, and extricate ourselves from the muddle that is other people's beliefs.
Today, more than ever, education means taking charge of your learning and how you want to act in the world.