What is the importance of Miss Gates's lesson in democracy?

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gkopf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout's teacher, Miss Gates, requires her students to present current events in class. Cecil Jacobs brings up Adolf Hitler.  Miss Gates takes this opportunity to discuss the value of democracy with her students.  According to Miss Gates, democracy is about equality.  She believes that Hitler's treatment of the Jews is despicable and condemns his actions as prejudicial and inhuman.

However, her lesson is hypocritical.  While she applauds the American values of equality and democracy, and condemns Hitler's actions, she does not recognize the inequalities that are actually present in America.  This lesson occurs after Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, has been convicted in court.  The white citizens of Maycomb are extremely prejudiced and one neighbor even says, "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."  

Miss Gates believes that Hitler's treatment of the Jews is wrong, but refuses to see the prejudice that is alive in her own town.  Her lesson emphasizes that the people of Maycomb see nothing wrong with their beliefs about their African American neighbors.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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