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David Copperfield : The importance of a Liberal and Moral Education

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House  

In David Copperfield, Dickens champions the importance of a liberal and moral education by drawing from personal experiences and creating starkly contrasting caricatures to exemplify his beliefs and views. Prior to 1870, there were no rules or laws governing school syllabus or teacher conduct. Hence, many schools taught by forcing the students to recite mindlessly from books, discouraging students' "bright childish imaginations", consequently turning them into "little parrots and small calculating machines". Dickens most wholeheartedly deplores this method of teaching, instead encouraging an education that focuses on developing pupils' values and morals and teaching them the necessary skills their adult life.

David is first educated informally at home. He learns the "alphabet at [his mother's] knee" and reads to Peggotty from the Crocodile book, developing his imagination -- "we went into the water... and put sharp pieces of timber down their throats". Dickens clearly approves of this sort of education and David says in retrospect that memories of this time "recall no feeling of disgust or reluctance... [he]... walked along a path of flowers". Dickens contrasts the "daily drudgery and misery" of his education after Clara's remarriage; David is betrayed by his own nervousness in front of the dominating Murdstones, upsetting his mother and lowering his self-esteem -- "the more stupid I get". This negative reaction again shows Dickens' encouragement of a very different form of education. David is not "stupid" and it is only the strict and stifling circumstances that make him feel this way. Dickens encourages the reader to feel that if the Murdstones were more liberal and generous in their education of David, the results would be significantly different.

* Gurujee (nickname) is a member of the Copperfield Forum, where this text was first published.

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Cf. Dickens on schools, Dickens on Teaching and Learning  * Chapter Summary of David Copperfield
David Copperfield as a socio-critical novel * Dickens Biography and Works * More
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