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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What do you think Harper Lee's views on education are?

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Given Scout's first-grade experience, it would be safe to say that Harper Lee thought education was something that happened despite, not because of, the public school system. Scout enters public school having learned to read on her own, almost by osmosis, from sitting on Atticus's lap and following along while he reads. She has learned to write from Calpurnia. Her teacher, however, says it's wrong for her to read and write at home. Instead, the teacher, Miss Caroline, wants the students to learn words from little cards she holds up and to read the stories she wants them to read.

Scout is so outraged by the whole school situation that she insists to Atticus that she won't go back. She doesn't want to give up her self-education. Atticus strikes a deal with her, saying,

 “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have."

He also tells her to try to see things from Miss Caroline's point of view, and not to tell Miss Caroline about the deal she has made to read at home. What the reader learns from this episode is that school is a place you tolerate and work around, but that one's real education occurs outside its walls.

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I think that it is kind of hard to say what her views on the educational system of her time were, but it seems pretty clear as to what she thought of some aspects of education that she discusses in the book.  I don't know if these attitudes came about because of how things were in her time or not.

In the book, she seems to be very skeptical of the value of new ideas in education.  She thinks that Miss Caroline's "Dewey Decimal" ideas about education are pretty ridiculous.  This teacher's ideas seem to be kind of "new-fangled" with their emphasis on silently looking at flashcards and such.

I think she also thinks teachers who believed in these kinds of systems were too inflexible.  We see this in how Miss Caroline has such a hard time dealing with the fact that Scout is not conforming to her ideas of what a first grader should be.

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