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“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” was written by Muriel Spark. It is set in the 1930s and follows the story of an unusual teacher called Miss Brodie who brings girls up in an odd manner. “Hard Times” was written by Charles Dickens and is set in the 1850s. It is the story of a school run by a man called Thomas Gradgrind. They are set in different times but their teaching methods have some similarities and some differences. Their views on education are very different to normal standards.
The first difference we notice between the two teaching methods are that Miss Brodie wants her pupils to develop their particular talents. Her favourite students are nicknamed the “Brodie set” by the other teachers in the school. Each person in the “Brodie set” has an individual trait which Miss Brodie tries to develop to make him or her become famous for it. Monica Douglas was famous for “mathematics which she could so in her brain” and Rose Stanley was “famous for sex.”
Gradgrind on the other hand wants all his pupils to be similar. He only believes in teaching his children facts and not “arty” subjects as Miss Brodie does. He describes the children as “vessels ready to be filled to the brim with facts.” This shows that he does not even think of them as human or as having personalities.
Another difference is about taste and opinion. Brodie believes in having personal tastes and opinions. She wants her girls to know good things when they see them. One flaw in her teaching method is shown when Brodie asks who the greatest Italian painter is. A girl answers “Learnardo da Vinci,” which is her opinion but Brodie says, “the answer is Giotto”. This is just teaching the girls her opinions so the Brodie set do not really have their own. It is as if her opinion makes something true.
Gradgrind however bases all taste and opinion on facts. Gradgrind tells us this when he says, “You are not to have anywhere, what you don’t have in fact. What is called taste, is only another name for fact.” There is also a similarity between them at this point because they both want their children to become exactly like them to the extent that they think like them. It says in Hard Times that “He intended every child in his school to be a model – just as the young Gradgrind’s were all models.” Therefore both are egotistical.
The third difference is that Miss Brodie likes to take her pupils outside and discuss topics that have nothing to do with school, with her pupils. Gradgrind does the complete opposite. He teaches in a “bare windowed, intensely whitewashed room.” The difference in where they teach shows a lot about the sort of character they are. Brodie teaches outside and so wants her pupils to experience the natural world. She tells her class that the seasons are changing when a leaf falls off a tree. She wants them to be open to sensations and stimuli around them. Gradgrind believes that things on the walls will distract the pupils from their work on facts.
Another big difference between Brodie and Gradgrind is what they talk about in class. We can tell that Brodie is not like a normal teacher because she talks about her personal interests and her love life. She tells the girls a tragic story which makes the girls cry, “Rose Stanley had now begun to weep.” This shows that the girls are not ready to hear such a tragic story because they are too young. It also shows the relationship she has with the girls is very informal and more like friends rather than teacher and her students. This is also unprofessional because she should not be sharing her personal life with her students.
Gradgrind on the other hand is very formal with his students. He does not even call them by their names but instead by numbers, which show that, he is completely driven by facts. Brodie is very close with some of her pupils; “Miss Brodie never discussed her affairs with other members of staff, but only with her former pupils.” This is the complete opposite of Gradgrind who is very distant with his pupils. Brodie wants her pupils to have middle class manners because when a girl has her sleeves rolled up, she tells her off and insults her by asking her if she is doing some washing. Perhaps she is bringing up girls who will fit into a particular arty, middle class part of society.
This leads onto another similarity that they both have favourite pupils. Brodie does not seem to like Mary and insults her when she finds Mary is reading a comic under her desk. She takes it off her and refers to it as a sign of childhood. She says, “you are too old for comic papers at ten.” Gradgrind also insults a girl called Sissy Jupe. He immediately dislikes her because of her name and says that she should be called Cecilia. Gradgrind’s favourite pupil is a boy called Bitzer who can give him a “perfect” definition of a horse using just facts. He is what Gradgrind wants all his pupils to turn out like and is one of the “models”.
Miss Brodie is very unpredictable in her teaching because she says “Eunice, come and do a somersault in order that we may have comic relief.” This shows that she is very eccentric and the pupils do not know what is going to happen next in her lessons. Gradgrind is completely different and has a very predictable lecturing style and only teaches facts.
Dickens describes Gradgrind in great detail and his physical description is highly detailed. In contrast all we know about Brodie is that she has brown eyes, has a mighty stance and makes a big impression. She is compared to dictators, maybe because of her strictness and her belief that she knows best. Ion the text it says, “As soon expect Julius Caesar to apply for a job at a crank school as Miss Brodie.” We know that the other teachers are suspicious of her and there is criticism between them.
In the text it says, “There had been previous plots to remove her from Blaine, which had been foiled.” Gradgrind is described as having a square face and everything about him seems to be drawn with a ruler. Mr Gradgrind does not seem to be very realistic when we read about him, the description seems to show that he has been drawn with a ruler, which we find hard to believe. On the other hand Miss Brodie is not described in much detail but is compared to great leaders. This also seems unrealistic because it is hard for us to imagine a teacher with similar qualities to great roman leaders.
Gradgrind has staff who teach in an identical way to him, for example we read about the inspector and Mr Choakumchild gives him this name to imply what he does to his pupils and how much of a joke he is. Brodie is different to the other staff at her school. One of the reasons for this could be because she encourages rule breaking. For instance, we find out that she tells her children to pretend they are learning if “intruders” come because they will usually be chatting about irrelevant things.
She also lies to the head mistress when she comes into the class while Brodie is talking about her true love. She tells the headmistress they are doing history: “They are moved by a story I am telling them. We are having a history lesson.” However this is not the case and she is lying to the headmistress. Therefore she is not setting a good example to the pupils. Brodie does not like to teach normal subjects but instead gives make-up advice and gossip. This is wrong as the girls are being taught appearance is more important than learning in school. Gradgrind would never break any rules or even think about it. He is a stickler for rules. She is also selfish, talking about herself rather than teaching.
Miss Brodie wants her pupils to be artistic and explore their deepest feelings. She says, “But safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first.” This makes you worry as she is saying that safety is not as important as being beautiful. It also shows her view that the artistic temperament is vital.
Gradgrind’s view is completely different. He wants all his pupils to be identical and to learn tables and other facts by rote.
Brodie speaks to her pupils as equals rather than the staff because she invites them home with her. ” I should like you girls to come to supper tomorrow night.” Gradgrind is the complete opposite of Brodie because he is very distant with his pupils as he calls them by numbers as if they are inferior to him.
Both teachers seem to have a damaging effect on their pupils. We have read how Brodie has taught her girls about her life and other things but has not taught them the things they should be learning at that age like maths and English. It says in the text, “At that time they had been immediately recognisable as Miss Brodie’s pupils, being vastly informed on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorised curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school”.
Gradgrind is draining the life out of his pupils by his endless regime ‘Facts!’ This regime is making children lose out on their childhood like his own children do not know about nursery rhymes that children have heard about.
Both teachers have very strong beliefs and want their pupils to follow in their footsteps.
Gradgrind does not believe in imagination or fun and thinks that fact is the only thing that needs to be known.
Brodie thinks the importance of truth, beauty and goodness are more important than fact or safety. Even though their beliefs are completely different they still want their pupils to become like them even though their beliefs are obviously incorrect.
In conclusion, Miss Brodie and Gradgrind are two very different people from two different periods of time but they still have some similarities in their beliefs and teaching.
Miss Brodie believes mostly in “beauty, goodness and truth”. She teaches her pupils things that are unusual and would not expect to learn while at school, while she does not teach the things that you would expect to be taught. The pupils do not even know what the Battle of Flodden was which they should know as it is set in Scotland and is one of the biggest battles in Scottish history. She is the complete opposite of Gradgrind because she does not teach her pupils any facts whatsoever but instead teaches them gossip and useless information. She may work in an “education factory” but strongly disagrees with their method of teaching. This is a faulty teaching method and we know this from the text.
Gradgrind bases all his teachings on the principal of fact. He says “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else.” This view damages his pupils both mentally and physically. He has brought his own children up like this and so he is distraught when he finds them at the circus. This shows that even though his regime is so cruel to the children they still have a little spirit of imagination and fun inside them but it seems irreparably damaged. Also she puts her pupils in danger, as later in the book, one of the pupils is so inspired by Brodie’s teachings on Mussolini that she goes and joins the Spanish civil war and gets killed.
Both teachers want their pupils to grow up just like them and be models of themselves. He has forced facts upon them brutally. Brodie agrees in having opinions even if she influences them.
I think that both teachers are wrong but at least the other teachers in Miss Brodie’s school recognise this. The writers create these characters by creating the environments around them and describing their teaching in ironic ways. Dickens gives the characters joke names to show their personalities. If I had to choose between either Gradgrind or Brodie as a teacher, I would choose Brodie as she is different and sounds interesting unlike Gradgrind who makes schooling sound like a chore. Dickens and Spark show this well.
A good teacher ought to allow pupils to be more individual, unlike Gradgrind and be fairer with all pupils, unlike Brodie so a compromise between the two would be good. An even better teacher would be a pupil centred approach. This would mean getting the children to think for themselves and discovery by guided trial and error.