How does Bennett present different teaching styles in ‘The History Boys’?

Category: Teaching
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
Essay type: Process
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Bennett presents three contrasting teaching styles in the History Boys through the characters of Hector, Mrs Lintott, and Irwin. All three of the characters have their own unique attitude towards the boys' impending Oxbridge examinations, putting the boys in the difficult position of having to keep a reasonable balance between teaching and learning styles whilst making every effort to maintain the good-humoured relationships they have with each of their teachers, as well as striving to achieve well in their examinations.

Whilst Hector brands the boys' Oxbridge aspirations as 'silliness', he has a dedication and love for knowledge which he imparts during his lessons, and generally, to his students. While on the subject of General Studies, he quotes 'All knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use', which encapsulates, in one phrase, how highly he values any kind of knowledge as well as how he tries to teach the boys.

It shows that Hector sees knowledge as precious- he has an unconventional kind of teaching style which he sees as vital to the boys' education of life in general, and of particular importance is that the boys are aware of this. As Timms says, 'Mr. Hector's stuff's not meant for the exam, sir. It's to make us more rounded human beings. ' when the boys are questioned by Irwin on Hector's teaching style. Furthermore, Hector believes in giving the boys the ability to defy the education they have been given- 'You give them an education.

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I give them the wherewithal to resist it' he says, in conversation with factual Mrs. Lintott. Hector's teaching style is lively and compassionate, teaching the boys to love what they do. In contrast, Irwin, who is hired to prepare the boys for their exams, is totally centered on exam techniques. When reflecting on the essays he has just marked, he remarks that the other boys and girls who 'have been to Rome and Venice, Florence and Perugia' will 'know when they come to do an essay like this on the Church on the eve of the Reformation that some silly nonsense on the foreskins of Christ will come in handy.

And doing so he advises the boys to make their essays controversial so they stand out, regardless of what is true or what is considered correct or disciplined- in fact, Irwin approaches History in a rebellious and oppositional way to spark questioning. Iriwn's bold stance on education is summed up when he says that 'truth is no more at issue in an examination that thirst at a wine-tasting or fashion at a strip tease'- yet again reinforcing the idea that if the boys want to get in to Oxford and Cambridge, they need to make their essays contentious and different rather than 'Dull.

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Dull. Abysmally Dull. ' His idea that 'silly nonsense' will catch the examiner's eye comes into conflict with Hector's teaching style and the 'token' of Hector's trust when Irwin finds out that the boys have acquired countless 'gobbets' from Hector's lessons that he believes would be useful for the exams- 'Don't tell me that's useless knowledge', he says, pointing out that any piece of knowledge or quote or 'gobbet' could help them get through their exams.

Hector's compassionate teaching is at complete odds with Irwin's edgy style, and even though he disagrees wholeheartedly with the way Irwin approaches learning- 'call them what you like, but do not call them 'gobbets'- he is willing to help Irwin do his job- 'However, if you think it will help, I will speak to them. ' Mrs Lintott, the boys' history teacher, has a very factual and straightforward approach to teaching which sees the boys through their A levels- 'Their A levels are very good. And that is thanks to you, Dorothy. She is more concerned with facts than anything else, and her belief is that 'Plainly stated and properly organised facts need no presentation, surely. '

But the headmaster of the school is looking for something different, rather like Irwin- 'Think charm. Think polish. Think Renaissance Man. ' Mrs Lintott is frustrated by the need for 'presentation' and the fact that the dons fall for the tactics employed by people like Irwin, however, and compares it to 'A sprig of parsley, you mean? Or an umbrella in the cocktail? outlining her dry, sarcastic, cynical humour, and showing her disrespect for jazzing up facts to be acknowledged and noticed, as Irwin does. As Rudge puts it, when speaking to Mrs Lintott about Irwin, 'You've force-fed us the facts; now we're in the process of running around acquiring flavour. ' In conclusion, Bennett presents three different teaching styles in the play by showing the audience not just the teachers' lessons but by giving the audience an idea of what the teachers' personalities and outlooks on life are, showing that teaching and learning involve so much more than exam results.

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How does Bennett present different teaching styles in ‘The History Boys’?. (2017, Aug 21). Retrieved from

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