In the story "The Lesson," what is the lesson that Miss Moore is trying to teach the children?
Miss Moore tries to teach the children about the world that exists around them; there are people who live entirely different lives from them because of their wealth.
Miss Moore is an exceptional member of the Harlem community in which she lives because she has a college education. She feels that she should share some of her knowledge and experiences with the children of the Harlem community in order to take them down new paths of thinking. She organizes a trip to another part of the city called Manhattan; this is where the affluent citizens reside and shop. When the group enters the FAO Schwarz Toy Store, Miss Moore watches as the children browse through the aisles. They look at the expensive merchandise and react with amazement at the cost of such items. When one of the children asks what a paperweight is, Miss Moore purposely asks her if she does not have something to hold down paper at home.
“Don’t you have a calendar and a pencil case and a blotter and a letter-opener on your desk at home where you do your homework?”. . .
“I don’t even have a desk,” say Junebug.
After the children and Miss Moore leave the store, Sylvia asks, “Watcha bring us here for, Miss Moore?” However, Miss Moore only asks her a question: “You sound angry, Sylvia. Are you mad about something?” Sylvia refuses to respond. Then, after they arrive home, Miss Moore asks the children, “Well, what did you think of F.A.O. Schwarz?” Sylvia's friend Sugar observes that the price of a toy sailboat in that store costs more than the cost of the food that they all eat in a year. Miss Moore is pleased with Sugar's observation. She then asks Sugar,
“Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think?”
“I think,” say [sic] Sugar. . . “that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?”
Miss Moore is also satisfied with this response. She looks at Sylvia, but Sylvia refuses to say anything. Instead, she goes off to herself and ponders all that has occurred this day, vowing that "ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin." Sylvia is angered at the disparity between the incomes of those in her neighborhood and the wealth of those who reside in Manhattan. Apparently, she has learned Miss Moore's lesson because she wants to figure out how this difference has occurred and what can be done to change such inequity in her world.
Toni Cade Bambara's short story "The Lesson" follows the story of Sylvia, a black girl growing up in a particularly impoverished part of Harlem in the early 1970s. In order to educate the children about the world beyond their poor neighborhood and the disparity of wealth distribution, Miss Moore takes them on a field trip to the FAO Schwartz Toy Store in Manhattan. The children are shocked by how expensive the toys are, many of which cost more than the annual salaries earned by their parents.
Thus, Miss Moore attempts to get across her lesson: that the American economic system is inherently faulty, racially biased, and privileges some people (namely white folks who already have access to money, education, jobs, etc.) over others.
Miss Moore wants to teach the children that there is "more" in life that what their ghetto neighborhood offers. In showing them there is "more," she hopes they will reach for "more." However, when the narrator says at the end "There ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin," we are not sure if she has learned the lesson or not for throughout their trip to the city she resists what Miss Moore has to say because she doesn't want to appear stupid--she wants to be a tough know-it-all. Miss Moore is concerned that such an attitude might limit the child rather than expand her possibilities in life.