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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Miss Caroline demonstrate ageism in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Although ageism is normally a type of age discrimination against the elderly, Miss Caroline Fisher shows a deeply condescending attitude toward the young children she teaches in To Kill a Mockingbird. She has a rough first day at school, introducing herself in an unnecessarily pompous manner and showing little understanding of the special needs of the poor children she teaches. Instead of complimenting Scout on her advanced reading (and writing) skills, Miss Caroline criticizes Scout for being able to read well. Then, Miss Caroline, "no more than twenty-one" years of age, verbally attacks the parenting and teaching skills of Atticus before the entire class, apparently without knowledge of his own educational background and stature among the townspeople.

"You tell him I'll take over from her and try to undo the damage--
     "Your father does not know how to teach."

This is the one example of ageism toward elders found in the chapter, and it shows Miss Caroline's overly proud attitude about her own "progressive" education. Jem tells Scout that

"Our teacher says Miss Caroline's introducing a new way of teaching. She learned about it in college... You don't have to learn much out of books that way...

Miss Caroline's ego will be deflated by the end of her first day, discovering that she has no control over head lice, unbathed students, and the curses of Burris Ewell, who calls her a "snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher" on his way out of class.

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