How does Harper Lee use irony to make fun of Miss Caroline’s teaching in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although Scout's first-grade teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, is fresh out of college and well-educated in the newest educational trends, author Harper Lee nevertheless creates the impression that she is the one who still needs to be taught how to handle the children in her classroom. She proudly details her upbringing in Northern Alabama, not realizing that the children (and their parents) have little respect for people from this region. She overdresses on the first day of school, appearing to Scout like "a peppermint drop." Her first story, about a cat, bores the children who "were immune to imaginative literature."

Miss Caroline then objects to Scout's advanced learning, telling her that she would "undo the damage" and suggests that Atticus--probably the most intelligent and learned man in town--"does not know how to teach." When she attempts to punish Scout by lightly whipping her with a ruler, the class explodes in laughter; her attempt to discipline instead has the opposite effect. Miss Caroline's troubles continue: She unknowingly insults Walter Cunningham Jr. by offering him lunch money; she is cursed by Burris Ewell when she demands that he bathe before coming back to school; and she poorly handles her first experience with head lice. By the end of the day, it is the class who attempts to comfort Miss Caroline, who is reduced to tears by the events of the day.

Harper Lee's contempt for modern education is evident throughout the story, beginning with the knowledge that Atticus has home-schooled himself as a youngster. She deliberately has Jem misidentify the "Dewey Decimal System," and, later in the novel, condemns Scout's teacher, Miss Gates, for her hypocritical views of Jews and Negroes.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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