Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Importance of Teaching Values in School Part II of V

The Importance of Teaching Values in School Part II of V
By Jill Jenkins

     Selecting appropriate pieces of literature depends greatly on the age, reading comprehension level and maturity of the students.  Since most of my forty years of experience has been teaching ninth and tenth grade English, the examples that I am going to use are appropriate for that age group.  If your students are younger or have not acquired the comprehension level to successfully complete these selections, you may want to use different pieces of literature.  This and the upcoming entries will discuss  three classical novels and one play that can be used to teach about human relationships; however, some parents may complain that the selections show both positive and negative relationships.  For students to fully understand the complexity of human behavior, comparing and contrasting their behavior can help student have a more complete understanding.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

           Adolescents often have a difficult time deciphering between healthy, positive people and poison people. Developing relationships with healthy, positive people can enhance the student's self-esteem, and their self-confidence. Developing relationships with unhealthy, poisonous people can reduce a student's self-esteem and shatter their self-confidence.  Trying to please that person can lead the student to become involved in crime and illegal substances; thus, reducing his/her chances of a happy prosperous life.  Two different types of love relationships are depicted in Oliver Twist: love relationships between a guardian and a child and romantic love relationships between two adults making this an excellent choice for helping students make the distinguish between healthy people and poisonous people.  In all of the unhealthy relationships, one person dominates the other person by using manipulation, psychological and/or physical abuse. In the healthy relationships, the two work as partners both sacrificing to improve the life of the other.  The healthy relationships are caring relationships that improve the life of the other partner; the unhealthy relationships, one person abuse and manipulation for his/her own selfish gain. 
     By using a graphic organizer with students, their comprehension will improve and they will be able to synthesize abstract ideas supported by specific details from the reading material in a well-organized essay.  This means students' test scores on the Common Core Final Exams should increase.  The class could complete the chart together or students could work in pairs or small groups to complete it.  With struggling students put the information on sentence strips and have them glue them to the chart.  With brighter students give them a blank chart and have them brain storm their answers. Below is analysis of each of the relationships in the book and chart that could be used to help the students organize this information.

Analysis and Assigments

The five major guardian-child relationships include:
  • Mrs. Mann and the toddlers
  • Mr. Bumble and the boys at the workhouse
  • Fagin and his band of pick-pockets
  • Mr. Brownlow and Oliver
  • Mrs. Maylie and Oliver
The major romantic love couples include:
  • Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry
  • Charlotte and Noah Claypole
  • Nancy and Bill Sikes
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bumble
  • Rose and Harry Maylie

  • Mrs. Mann neglects the infants and small children that she fostering using all of the funds to purchase food and gin for herself while the children starve or drown in the washing tub.  However, she does provide them with a bit of gin to quiet the cries of the starving, ill children.  They sleep better and so does she.  What a humanitarian!
  • Mr. Bumble does not apply alcohol to the boys in his charge, but he does belittle them and liberally applies his cane to their bottoms to motivate his ill-fed boys.  While the employees of the workhouse sit well dressed devouring, banquets of food.  When dear little Oliver makes the mistake of asking for more, he is flogged before the other boys, and taken to church for the group to pray for his forgiveness all while searching for a sea captain who might murder him while he is serving as a cabin boy. 
  •   Fagin uses social isolation, alcohol, and peer pressure to motivate the boys to commit petty larceny for his financial gain.  He shows no remorse when one of his young bandits is hung for his robbery.  When Oliver refuses to steal for him, he keeps in alone in a dark, moist room reading books about boys who meet their end through violence.  When Oliver is particularly depressed, he sends The Artful Dodger and Charlie Bates to urge him to cooperate. 

  • In contrast, both Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Maylie provide Oliver with a warm, caring household where he is nursed back to health, protected from an unjust legal system and provided with stylish clothing, proper nourishment and a proper education.   Both treated Oliver kindly with dignity and respect and wanted nothing in return except for his happiness and well-being.  Mr. Brownlow runs to the court when Oliver is arrested for pick-pocketing him to testify on his behalf because he is uncertain that Oliver is the culprit.  Mrs. Maylie lies to the police to protect from apprehension after her house was broken into even though he is shot just like the boy who entered her house illegally.  Furthermore, Mr. Brownlow and the entire Maylie family, Mrs. Maylie, Harry Maylie, and Rose, collaborate to bring Monks, Oliver’s half brother, and Fagin’s entire gang who kidnapped Oliver and conspired to incriminate Oliver so Monks could inherit their father’s entire estate.

  •  The undertaker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, who take Oliver in as an apprentice after he is removed from the workhouse, are prime examples of  romantic love couples where one person dominates the other for his/her personal gain.  Mrs. Sowerberry dominates Mr. Sowerberry by belittling him and subjecting him to loud wails of complaints.  She is especially unhappy that he brought Oliver home without consulting her.  When Oliver finally punches Noah Claypole for taunting him about his late mother, she willingly joins the mayhem and beats Oliver with Charlotte.  When Mr. Sowerberry returns home, she exaggerates the situations and bullies him into flogging Oliver.

  •  Charlotte, Mr and Mrs. Sowerberry’s maid, is dominated by Noah Claypole through manipulation.  Noah plays on Charlotte’s desire to be loved to manipulate her into stealing Mr. Sowerberry’s food for him. When the two decide to steal the money box and run away from the Sowerberry’s establishment, he thoughtfully allows her to carry the money box in case they are apprehended by the police. Obviously, he is not concerned about her happiness or safety.  He is simply using her to get whatever he wants.  What a gentleman!
  •  Mr. Bumble weds Mrs. Corney for financial gain, but his marriage doesn’t turn out quite as he anticipates.  Mr. Bumble pursues Mrs. Corney when he sees her lovely tea set and silver spoons.  His dream of comfortable life is thwarted when Mrs. Corney, now Mrs. Bumble, turns out to be a tyrant.  She dominates him by belittling him before others and when he finally tries to stand up to her, she leaps upon him like a leopard and beats him. She bullies him into criminal activities with Monks by selling him the wedding ring, the golden locket and the lock of hair stolen from Oliver’s dying mother.
  •  Although the Bumble’s relationship seems humorous, the effect of spousal abuse is best depicted with Nancy and Bill Sike’s relationship.  Bill knocks Nancy unconscious when she disagrees with him and tries to protect Oliver.  Although Nancy is offered a safe haven by Rose and Mr. Brownlow when she heroically seeks them out to protect Oliver, she refuses to leave Bills who she loves.  Her choice leads to her demise.  Manipulated by Fagin into believing that Nancy has turned against Bill and the gang, Bill bludgeons her to death. 

  • The one positive romantic love relationship in the novel is that of Rose and Harry Maylie.  Harry asks Rose to marry him, but believing that her illegitimate birth will hamper his political career, she sacrifices her own happiness and turns him down.  In response, Harry sacrifices his career and joins the clergy.  As a result, they happily marry. 

     Using visual organizer below, students can organize information about the two types of relationship and use that information to compose an essay:  Using examples from the novel, Oliver Twist, identify the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy human relationships.  Explain why Charles Dickens has more unhealthy relationships than healthy ones.  What is he trying to say?

Type of Relationship
Characteristics and Examples


Mrs. Mann
Mrs. Mann neglects the

children and infants.  She

allows them to drown in the

washing tub and starve while

she uses all of the funds

allocated for the children to

feed herself and buy gin. She

does give a bit of gin to the

ill children so she won't have

to hear them crying at night.


Mr. Bumble
Mr. Bumble belittles the boys

and flogs them with his

cane.  The employees at the

workhouse are well-fed and

well dressed, but the boys

wear rags and are nearly

starving since they are only

given watery gruel to eat.

When Oliver asks for more

food, he is flogged, dragged

to Church to hear the others

pray for his salvation while

they find him an appropriate

apprenticeship with a Captain

who might flog him to death,

because according to Mr.

Bumble, he is "just a poor

orphan that nobody could



Fagin motivates his boys to

pick-pocket by providing them

with a home, alcohol and

a sense of belonging.  He

shows no remorse when one

of the boys is being hung for

his involvement. When Oliver

refuses to participate, he

uses social isolation by

confining him, veiled threats

by having him read books

about murdered children and

peer pressure by sending

the Artful Dodger and

Charlie Bates to describe

their "rum life."

Other related discussion questions that could be used for Literature Circles and/or writing questions might be:
  • Why do people like Noah Claypole bully others and how does his behavior affect others?
  • Why are homeless youth more likely to become involved in crime or game activities?
  • Why do people with little or no social mobility like Fagin turn to life of crime?
  • Compare Bill's treatment of Nancy and Bulleye. Why do both remain loyal to him?
  • What role does alcohol play in enticing Fagin's boys to staying with him? Does alcohol and drugs play a role in modern gangs?
  • Charles Dickens' father was an alcoholic.  Discuss how his personal experience influenced his writing of Oliver Twist.
  • Discuss the connection between poverty rates in urban areas and crime rates?
  • Compare and contrast the lives of the middle and upper class families depicted in Oliver Twist to the lives of people living in poverty.  Does that difference still exist today?
  • Compare and contrast the lives of Nancy and Rose.  What role does environment play in their moral codes and lives?
  • Compare and contrast the lives of Oliver and Monks. What role does environment play in their moral codes and lives? 
  • Research the characteristics of child abuse and spousal abuse.  Compare and contrast your findings to the examples of child abuse and spousal abuse illustrated in the novel Oliver Twist. Postulate ideas of breaking the circle of abuse.
  • Possible Project: Since Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist as a social commentary on the how the industrial revolution of his time improved the lives of the more affluent classes, but not those living in poverty, it can serve as a media to explore how the effects of the informational revolution has had on our lives.  Charles Dickens based much of this novel from his own experiences living in the workhouse as a child.  Students are to write a resource paper and present the paper.  Both the paper and the presentation should include correct M.L.A. documentation and a graph depicting the data collected during research.  Ask students to research the effects of poverty on a developing country of their choosing.  Select one of the social problem Charles Dickens explores in Oliver Twist:
    • How available is quality medical care and education to those living in poverty?
    • How does society care for the disenfranchised population, the orphaned children, the homeless population and single women?
    • How has the crime rate been affected by the poverty?