Most children are no longer “brought up by hand”, the Victorian era being long past, and many parents, by and large, have made their children the centers of their lives, but Pip may still show us to never underestimate the secretive nature of children, their watchful, observant presence among adults, and how easy it can be to patronize or intimidate them. Their sense of injustice can be acute, but we may never know unless our adult sensibilities acknowledge their independent sense of their own lives:
“I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry — I cannot hit upon the right name for the smart — God knows what its name was — that tears started to my eyes. … In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may only be a small injustice that the child can be exposed to, but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter (58).”*
Childrens’ open and welcoming response to decency and the smallest measures of kindness also illustrate one core of their resilience — they want to believe in us. Unless their trust in adults is unhinged by long neglect and cruelty, they are faithful. They do not forget. Pip tells us “it is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable, honest-hearted, duty-doing man [or woman] flies out into the world, but it is very possible to know how it has touched one’s self in going by…(100).”*
In the middle of Dickens I think of teaching and of the immense responsibility teachers bear in treating their students as human beings to be engaged and persuaded into opening themselves to the risk of learning, and thus into stepping away from their silence or a protective blankness. In this critical sense then, the more they speak or write, the stronger they become. Pip’s voice reminds me that those expectant faces in their straight September rows bundle together possibilities of such richness and goodness that teachers might better genuflect outside classrooms before entering to greet what rough souls the new year has gathered for them.
*from Charles Dickens Great Expectations