What does Harper Lee have to say about contemporary education in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee presents contemporary education as shallow, rigid, and limited.

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The importance of education is a major theme in To Kill a Mockingbird. Before attending a day of school, Scout learns how to read from her father Atticus and how to write from the housekeeper Calpurnia. However, when exposed to contemporary educational methods in a formal school setting, Scout fares less well, and Lee's text becomes far more critical.

Lee's criticisms of contemporary teaching methods are personified in the character of Miss Caroline, Scout's teacher. Young and inexperienced, Miss Caroline does not think to adapt her teaching methods to the specific needs of her students. Instead, she insists on utilizing newfangled notions of schooling even though they appear to actually discourage learning and schoolroom enthusiasm. For example, Miss Caroline thinks it is bad for Scout to learn how to read at home since it puts her development out of the control of the classroom, which to her mind is inherently superior to anything a parent might offer.

Miss Caroline also assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. She bores the class with her alphabet lessons and simplistic story time routine. She is unable to adapt her style to the needs of her mixed-age, rural classroom, so her lessons prove ineffective. While much of Miss Caroline's failures as a teacher come from her lack of real-world experience, through her, Lee is criticizing modern education's narrow perspective on how children should be taught.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on March 4, 2021
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