Why does Miss Caroline disapprove of Scout's reading ability in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scout is a little fearful about her first day of school in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and it turns out she was right to feel that way. Her teacher is Miss Caroline, and she seems quite harmless at first:

Miss Caroline was no more than twenty-one. She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish. She also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white-striped dress. She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. She boarded across the street one door down from us in Miss Maudie Atkinson’s upstairs front room, and when Miss Maudie introduced us to her, Jem was in a haze for days.

Unfortunately, Miss Caroline was taught how to teach a certain way and to a certain kind of students (which is clearly not what this group of students is), so she does not quite know what to do when something does not go according to her perfectly thought-out plan. Scout already being able to read is one of those things.

As Scout begins to read, "a faint line appeared between [Miss Caroline's] eyebrows," and when she "discovered that [Scout] was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading."

This, of course, is a ridiculous notion. Scout tries to explain that she was never taught to read at all; she simply sat on her father's lap and, over time, she learned. Scout says,

Miss Caroline apparently thought I was lying. “Let’s not let our imaginations run away with us, dear,” she said. “Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I’ll take over from here and try to undo the damage-”


“Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now.”

Miss Caroline is clearly not flexible and does not know what to do when things do not go as planned. She is proof that book knowledge is quite different than real-life experience. The truth is that she should have been thrilled that one of her students can already read; instead she is horrified and commands Scout to stop reading until Miss Caroline can teach her. Another ridiculous notion. 

Miss Caroline watched the class file out for lunch. As I was the last to leave, I saw her sink down into her chair and bury her head in her arms. Had her conduct been more friendly toward me, I would have felt sorry for her. She was a pretty little thing.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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