Hard Times for Recess

By David Bornstein

More than 150 years ago, Charles Dickens published “Hard Times,” a novel centered around the students of an English schoolmaster named Thomas Gradgrind, who had no use for play or any sort of imaginative pursuit. For Gradgrind, if something did not demonstrably add to the productive capacity of the nation and could not be justified with facts and statistics, it had no place in a child’s education.

Dickens invented Gradgrind (and introduced him in a chapter entitled “Murdering the Innocents”) to dramatize what he saw as the soullessness of utilitarianism, a school of thought prevalent in England during the Industrial Revolution that emphasized rational pursuits and quantitative measures over all else.

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