What is Ignorance and Want?

Halfway through A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens writes about the miserly Scrooge who is being visited by a second ghost of Christmas Present. The Spirit shows Scrooge two emaciated children named Ignorance and Want. These children are based on Dicken’s walks around London and his visit one day to the Ragged Schools.

In 1843, Charles Dickens began his association with the schools and visited the Field Lane Ragged School.[12] He was appalled by the conditions, yet moved toward reform.[13] The experience inspired him to write A Christmas Carol. While he initially intended to write a pamphlet on the plight of poor children, he realised that a dramatic story would have more impact.


Ragged Schools

Ragged Schools were charitable organizations for the education of the poor in England. They appeared in the poorest sections of cities and towns and often took children that other places would not because of the children’s appearance or unruly behavior. Founded in 1844, the Ragged School Union lasted until the early 1900s when local education authorities funded and took charge of elementary education for all in England.

Ignorance and Want

As Dicken’s novella ends with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the change in Scrooge spills all over his life. The next day he starts a cheerful renewal of lost friends and family, contributes to causes and makes friends with his employee Bob Cratchit and his crutch-bearing son, Tiny Tim. Unresolved at the end, are the two children Ignorance and Want. The audience hopes that all will be resolved but what will happen to these children? The writer Washington Irving and Dickens were both interested in re-establishing the tradition of Christmas, especially the thoughtfulness and charity that when expressed at Christmas can create the feeling of a more socially connected society.

Transforming Ignorance and Want

The metaphor of Scrooge’s transformation makes me think about our society’s transformation and especially by a movement to reform our schools. Can we transform our own ignorance and want at this time of year? Scrooge learns through three stories and so can we. In the past humans have a strong history of educating our most disadvantaged as the example of the Ragged Schools tells us so vividly. In the present, we have always worked with disadvantaged youth to highlight their needs, but have failed to successfully secure a strong education for all.

Christmas Yet To Come

Could we, together, in the Christmas Yet To Come, make our society stronger by educating all of our children well? Could we help all children by developing their social-emotional intelligence, sparking their creativity and insights and crafting their projects through interdisciplinary study? This question comes out of my perception that we are experiencing a new model for education that transforms our success stories from a few students who learn to read, pass the SAT, and go to Harvard, to multiple success stories embraced by every child—every child learns to read, every child enters a great school, and every child is joining our workforce ready to learn and ready to achieve. This would truly be the equality of educational opportunity that was promised in 1964, and finally achieved in 2022.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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