In Toni Cade Bambara's story “The Lesson,” Miss Moore takes Sylvia and several of her friends on a trip to Fifth Avenue so they can visit the F.A.O. Schwartz toy store. The children are shocked at the prices of the toys. A microscope costs $300 and a sailboat a shocking $1195. The children can't understand what's so special about it. They make their own sailboats from kits, and while they tend to sink, at least they only cost less than a dollar.
As the children move to enter the store, Sylvia finds herself hesitating. She feels shy, like she doesn't belong there, and she doesn't like that feeling one bit. As she walks through the store, she starts getting angry. She looks at a trick clown that costs $35 and imagines what the people of her neighbor could do with $35. It would pay a month's rent. She also starts to wonder how the people who can afford to buy such things earn their money and why the families of her neighborhood can't do the same things.
By the time the group gets back to their neighborhood, Sylvia is still in an ornery mood. She is upset with Sugar for noting that the whole group doesn't eat enough in a year to total what that sailboat costs, and she won't answer Miss Moore when the latter asks if anyone else learned anything. At the end of the story, Sylvia heads to a quiet place “to think this day through.” She has learned a disturbing lesson, but she also makes a promise to herself: “But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.” She has discovered that she wants to improve her life. She does not want to be caught up in a web of poverty and oppression and injustice. She is not yet able to express her feelings in those words, but in the lesson of the toy store, she has learned that she has to work hard so as not to be defeated in this life. Her determination to win at life is strong.