Charles Dickens's Hard Times is not a novel that typically springs to mind in the context of discussions of education in utopia or dystopia. But maybe it should be. Hard Times stages a fierce debate between utopic and dystopic visions of nineteenth-century Britain and the future that it prepares its children for. On one side: Mr. Gradgrind and his school, with a sclerotic curriculum of “Facts, facts, facts” that hardens the heart and the mind and stamps out any spark of imagination. Gradgrind “manufactures,” like identical widgets, model citizens in the form of the apathetic Bitzer. On the other side: Mr. Sleary and his traveling circus, with an endlessly inventive but also skills-oriented curriculum. The circus regards the associative knowledge that imagination makes possible as more valuable than the discrete facts and supposedly objective truths that rationality provides. Learning takes place in the heart, in the ring, and on the...

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