parallelism: ‘learnt a little less … taught much more’

hard-times‘If [M’Choakumchild] had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!’

dickens uses parallelism very effectively as a rhetorical device, contrasting learning and teaching, to make the moral point that modesty in learning may be a prerequisite for greatness in teaching. and what you learn informs what you teach. if you learn facts, just the facts, and only the facts, then you teach facts, just the facts, and only the facts. but if you learn modesty, play, wonder…. in context of the story so far, are we vessels to be filled with facts or beings to be gripped by wonder?

the pedagogical implications are immense. in fact, the very nature of what it is to be human is at stake, and that view of human nature informs the teaching, the work, the laws, the very society. in 19th century britain the triumphant view of human nature made for dark pedagogy, labour, law, and society for millions. are we in the 21st century any less dark,  more enlightened, really?

parallelism subtly groups things together, too. so, ‘less’ goes with ‘learning’ and ‘more’ with ‘teaching’. parallelism also structures things, orders things, so if you miss something, as the writer or the reader, it sticks out like a sore thumb. grouping and structuring enable commonalities and differences. like sesame street’s ‘one of these things is not like the other’, we focus on the differences. in this case, a ‘little less learning’ differs from ‘much more teaching’ and aids the implication that modesty in learning may be a prerequisite for greatness in teaching.

sometimes the parallelism involves you, your knowledge and creativity: in coketown, life runs between the ‘hospital [where you are born] and the cemetery [where you go when you die], and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.’

i saw such a pedagogical difference once, as a musician setting up in a grade school gym during school hours. one teacher marched her pupils sternly out of the gym, but another teacher whistled a tune as she brought her pupils playfully into the gym. if you’re a teacher, the difference could be that simple, that subtle, or whether you stand behind your desk or in front of it.

by the way, less subtle are some of the names for the characters he comes up with. ‘scrooge’ is his most famous example. but here, ‘m’choakumchild’ is obviously not beneficial to a child’s welfare.

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