In the Education of Little Tree, what are the lessons Little Tree is learning?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Little Tree learns several different kinds of lessons throughout the book: concrete lessons like farming and whiskey-making, lessons about the nature of people, and spiritual lessons about existence that relate to Little Tree's grandparents' Cherokee heritage.

Little Tree learns many lessons about practical things like farming and whiskey-making while he lives with his grandparents. His Granpa chooses to teach him from experience, bringing Little Tree with him as he goes about his days. Little Tree ends up working with his Granpa at the whiskey still and learns to sell what they make. He also learns to fish by hand, make useful goods, and hunt for animals. 

Little Tree also learns less concrete lessons about the world while living with his grandparents. When they hike through the woods together, for example, Granpa uses the time to teach Little Tree. When they see a hawk kill a quail, Granpa tells Little Tree that it's the way of life—and that each creature should only take what he needs and never the best of the lot. Later, when Little Tree is faced with six trapped turkeys, Granpa instructs him to choose three, and Little Tree shows he's learned this lesson by choosing the three smallest.

Little Tree learns about trust when he buys an animal from a trader. The animal dies on the way home, and Granpa figures out that it had liver disease. The discovery that the man had sold an animal on the verge of death to him teaches Little Tree to not freely give away his trust.

Another lesson Little Tree's grandparents teach him is that love comes from understanding. At night, his Granpa tells his Granma, "I kin ye, Bonnie Bee." She sometimes asks him, "Do you kin me, Wales?" They're confirming they understand each other—and they explain to Little Tree that love for both people and God is impossible without understanding.

The final lesson that Little Tree's grandfather teaches him is that life is a cycle. He dies after an accident, and his last words to Little Tree are: "It was good, Little Tree. Next time, it will be better. I'll be seein' ye." Before his Granma dies later, she echoes this, writing, "Little Tree, I must go. Like you feel the trees, feel for us when you are listening. We will wait for you. Next time will be better. All is well. Granma."

Through the many types of lessons, Little Tree learns to grow into an independent adult who can make his way in the world.

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Education of Little Tree, the lessons Little Tree learns from his grandparents have to do with respect and caring. For example, from his grandfather he learns to respect nature and take only what he needs: when they go together on a turkey hunt and trap six birds, Little Tree takes only three. Another time, when Little Tree finds the sweet smelling musk bugs, he brings them to his grandmother, who tells him that sharing what is good with whoever you can find is right. He also learns lessons about spirituality from his grandparents, and about how everyone has a "spirit mind" and a "body mind."

Little Tree also learns lessons about trust. He helps his grandfather work his still and is proud of his work, but he learns to mistrust the government agents that come to shut the still down. He befriends a white girl who is very poor, and he has his grandmother make her a pair of moccasins, only to see her whipped by her father for accepting charity from an Indian. He is cheated out of fifty cents by a "Christian" in town who sells him an unhealthy calf. These experiences teach him that the ways of his family are not the ways of other people.

Perhaps the best lesson Little Tree learns is the lesson of kinship. He learns that "kin" is a word that used to mean much more than simply being related—to "kin" someone is to truly understand them in a deep way, which is also the purest expression of love.

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Education of Little Tree, the character Little Tree learns the Cherokee way of life from his grandparents, especially from his grandfather who becomes his father figure when he is orphaned. He learns to use nature wisely, taking only what he needs and using it completely. His grandfather teaches him to “listen” to what nature is telling him, and together they examine the concept of the life cycle. One of the most important lessons that Little Tree learns is about “Kin” or enduring understanding through love. Little Tree’s grandparents exhibit this type of love from their years as partners. One tradition the grandfather explains is the marriage stick which is not to be broken. Little Tree’s grandfather also teaches him about his Cherokee heritage including the story of the “Trail of Tears.” Grandfather feels that you must know your past in order to move forward with your future. Work ethic is another lesson taught by the grandparents as they work to make a living. All the while, they also encourage Little Tree to learn new vocabulary by using the dictionary and they have him read books. They try to give Little Tree an education that is both practical for his life situation but also important to his future.