What does Scout learn on her first day of school in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the major themes in the novel 'To Kill A Mocking Bird' by Harper Lee is education. Lee criticizes institutionalized education and shows that college-taught hypocritical teachers often do more harm than good to children by stifling their creativity. The teachers like Miss Gates and Miss Caroline who are either hypocrites or unsympathetic towards the children. Miss Carolineis flammoxed as Scout already knows how to read and has also been taught the script. She feels this is against the system of education and asks Scout to tell Atticus to stop teacheing her as he is doing it all wrong, instead of trying to mould her teaching system according to her students' needs. She also misunderstands Scout's well-intended words towards Walter Cunningham showing how far apart she is from the students. A direct contrast to this is Atticus, who is able to impart moral education to his children due to his sympathetic nature towards them. He tells Scout:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.

When Scout is unable to understand this bit of wisdom, he simplifies his language to make it understandable to her

- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it

This shows that Atticus's sympathy and empathy with his children is what makes him such a good mentor to his children, and if school teachers too try to understand or view the world from their students perspective they would find their job much easier. Another example of a hypocritical school teacher is Miss Gates who despises Hitler's despotic policy but is unable to see the racism happening right under her noses. While leaving the courtroom Scout hears her saying to Miss Stephanie Crawford:

It's time somebody taught em' a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us.

Scout is unable to understand this dual personality, and on the very first day her common sense tells her that it is useless for her to attend the school which only aims at stifling the children's creativity and making them conformed to the same old traditions and promotes rote learning.

One of the major lessons of the book is that people learn more through experience than through textual facts, and at the end of the book Scout says that according to her she and Jem has already learnt everything and there is nothing much left for them to learn except perhaps algebra.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scout receives quite an education on her first day of school, but most of it concerns with how to deal with other people rather than with scholastic matters. First she learns from Jem that the two of them should have little contact with one another at school.

I was to stick with the first grade, and he would stick with the fifth.  (Chapter 2)

Scout learns many things about Miss Caroline: that she hails from northern Alabama, an area filled with "persons of no background"; that she believes teaching should only be done by teachers; that she believes Atticus has been causing "damage" to Scout by reading to her; that cursive writing should not be learned until much later than the first grade; and that Miss Caroline has never run across "cooties" (head lice) before. Most importantly, Scout learns lessons from Calpurnia about how to treat a house guest; and, from Atticus, how it is best to "climb into his skin" first before judging a person. She also learns the definition of compromise and how important it is to Atticus that she receive a public education.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial