What lesson does Miss Moore hope to teach the children in "The Lesson"?
Additionally, Miss Moore hopes to teach the children concepts that are still foreign to them. These concepts capture the realities of economic value and choice. Economic value is based on what consumers want to purchase. Essentially, the value consumers place on an item affects whether they purchase it or reject it. Perceived value affects consumer choice.
When the children question the cost of items in the store, Miss Moore does not immediately address their concerns. Instead, she tells the children what the items are made of and what they are used for.
In the story, Rosie questions why a "chunk of glass" should cost $480. In response, Miss Moore tells her that the item is a "paperweight made of semi-precious stones fused together under tremendous pressure." The cost is based on the materials used to make the paperweight. Semi-precious stones are expensive and, as a result, the market price of the paperweight is high. Also, the costs associated with processing gems are expensive, and this adds to the price of the paperweight as well.
Next, the children discover that the price of a toy sailboat is "one thousand one hundred ninety-five dollars." They are flabbergasted. However, the sailboat is handcrafted. Handcrafted toys are notoriously expensive because of the possibly hundreds of hours of labor that go into their creation. Skilled artisans must be paid to design and make the items.
After listening to her friends' comments about the sailboat, the narrator makes an interesting observation:
Who’d pay all that when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop’s, a tube of blue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents? “It must have a motor and a whole lot else besides,” I say. “My sailboat cost me about fifty cents.”
The narrator's comments perfectly explains the concepts of economic value and choice. Because she sees little value in purchasing such an expensive sailboat, the narrator makes the choice to consider an alternative. Later, the narrator demands to know how much a real sailboat costs, and she directs her question at Miss Moore. The wise educator replies, "Why don’t you check that out,” she says, “and report back to the group?"
Miss Moore's answer irritates the narrator. However, it is an important answer: without fanfare, Miss Moore quietly points out the importance of acquiring knowledge for oneself. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson Miss Moore hopes to teach the children.
The lesson Miss Moore wants the narrator and the other children to learn is about wealth and poverty and the massive inequalities that exist in society. Taking such children, who live in such poverty, to a toystore where toys are sold for money that whole families could live off is meant to instil in the children a sense of the injustice of society and also give them a desire to do well and rise above their station in life. Note what the lesson is that Sugar learns:
"I think," say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before cause I whip her ass in a minute, "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?"
The fact that the narrator describes Miss Moore as being "besides herself" with this reflection from Sugar indicates that this is precisely the lesson she was hoping the children would take away with them. This is likewise what the narrator has realised, as is evidenced when she thinks of all that $35 could buy for her family when she sees a clown toy being sold for that amount. Miss Moore thus hopes to teach the children about the bigger picture of society and the inequality that is such an unfortunate part of it. Getting them to realise such an important lesson at this stage of their lives will help them to become more aware of the inequalities they face and to both fight against those inequalities and give them a desire to improve their lot in life.