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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses the character of Miss Caroline to give us an outsider’s view of Maycomb. Miss Caroline, Scout’s first grade teacher, does not fit into Maycomb at all, and her unusual teaching methods and her ignorance of local customs tell us much about Scout.
If Atticus was writing a letter to the principal, there are several things he might want to comment on.
Miss Caroline’s Discipline Methods are Unfair
Poor Scout does not have a good first day of school.
Before the first morning was over, Miss Caroline Fisher, our teacher, hauled me up to the front of the room and patted the palm of my hand with a ruler, then made me stand in the corner until noon. (ch 2)
Scout is punished pretty severely on the first day of school. If I was a parent, I would object to this. Scout is young and does not yet understand how to behave.
Miss Caroline Undermines Atticus’s Parenting
Scout seems to be punished mainly because she already knows how to read, and Miss Caroline does not approve, and “when Miss Fisher finds out that Scout can read; Miss Fisher tells Scout not to allow her father to teach her anymore” (enotes chapter 1 summary).
Miss Caroline apparently thought I was lying. "Let's not let our imaginations run away with us, dear," she said. "Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage --.
"Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now." (ch 2)
It makes sense that Scout would react negatively and defensively against this attack of her father.
Miss Caroline Does Not Take the Time to Learn about Her Students
Miss Caroline begins the day by reading a story about cats talking to each other, but most of her students are baffled by it.
Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature. (ch 2)
The children would benefit more from practical instruction on how to read.
John Dewey’s Educational Methods May Not Be Appropriate
Jem calls Miss Caroline’s methods the “Dewey Decimal System” because it involves John’s Dewey’s ideas about teaching and learning.
The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed "the," 11 cat, pt 11 rat," "man," and 11 you." No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence. (ch 2)
This method seems to baffle the children, and they don’t appear to learn a thing from it. Throughout the year the kids seem to do a lot but not learn a lot.
[The school days] were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. (ch 4)
In short, Miss Caroline “misunderstands the social order of Maycomb and punishes Scout for trying to explain it. She also comes into conflict with Scout because of the girl's reading ability” (enotes characters). For these reasons, Miss Caroline deserves a letter from Atticus to the principal.
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