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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is the conflict between Scout and Miss Caroline in To Kill A Mockingbird?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout does not get along well with her first grade teacher, Miss Caroline. Miss Caroline does not know how to handle a unique child like Scout who does not fit into her teaching methods and who is not afraid to speak up and try to explain how things work in their community.

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The main conflict between Scout and her first grade teacher concerns Miss Caroline's rigid teaching methods and Scout's advanced abilities. Scout is not a typical first-grader, and she already knows how to read and write. She has spent innumerable hours reading alongside Atticus and writing at the kitchen table while Calpurnia cooks. Scout is significantly more advanced than her peers and requires differentiated instruction to meet her academic needs. As an inexperienced teacher, Miss Caroline has her own perception of what first-graders should be able to do in the classroom, which does not include reading or writing in cursive. When Miss Caroline discovers that Scout is academically gifted, she prohibits Scout from reading with Atticus and says that students do not write in cursive until the third grade.

Rather than foster Scout's advanced abilities and adapt her instruction, Miss Caroline punishes Scout for excelling in the classroom. Miss Caroline's rigid, ineffective teaching methods hinder Scout's ability to learn and dissuade her from attending school. The reader recognizes that Miss Caroline should praise Atticus for teaching Scout outside of the classroom and positively reinforce Scout for reading and writing at a young age.

Another incident that contributes to their conflict concerns Miss Caroline and Scout's lack of perspective. Miss Caroline does not attempt to familiarize herself with her students and assumes that Walter Cunningham Jr. will take her quarter. Similarly, Scout lacks perspective by assuming that Miss Caroline knows better than to offer a Cunningham something he cannot payback. Instead of exercising perspective and biting her tongue, Scout raises her voice in Walter Jr.'s defense and offends Miss Caroline.

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The heart of the conflict between Scout and her first grade teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, lies in the fact that Scout is not a typical first grade student, and Miss Caroline has no idea how to deal with her.

For one thing, Scout already knows how to read, and not just story books for children either. In fact, Scout has been reading as long as she can remember (her brother, Jem, thinks she was born knowing how to read), and she reads with Atticus every night. Miss Caroline cannot fathom this. At first, she doesn't even believe it and makes Scout read nearly the entire first reader and the “stock-market quotations from The Mobile Register.” At this, Miss Caroline is appalled, for the way Scout has learned to read does not match her own teaching style and methods. She tells Scout that her father must stop teaching her, for she has learned to read wrongly.

Scout, of course, does not understand this. Her brother tells her that it's just the new way teachers are teaching these days. Miss Caroline, he explains, learned it in college. But as time goes on, Scout has more difficulties with Miss Caroline. Scout knows how to write (and in cursive at that) as well as read, but Miss Caroline tells her she must stop because people in first grade print, not write.

Then Scout speaks up on behalf of Walter Cunningham when Miss Caroline tries to give him a quarter for his lunch and he will not accept it. Scout understands. The Cunninghams are both very poor and very proud, and Scout tries to explain to her teacher that Walter does not want to accept the quarter. Scout ends up getting hit with a ruler and told to stand in the corner. Again, Miss Caroline does not grasp what Scout is saying, and she really does not want to. She cannot accept Scout for who she is.

Eventually, Scout tells Atticus what is going on at school and how she doesn't want to stop reading and writing. She no longer wants to go to school either. Atticus makes a deal with her. If she continues with school and doesn't say anything to her teacher about what she does in the evenings, Scout and Atticus will continue their reading as normal. Scout agrees.

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Scout’s main conflict with Miss Caroline is that her teacher does not try to understand her or Maycomb before making a judgement. 

Miss Caroline’s problem with Scout is that she doesn’t understand her, and she is in way over her head.  She is a new young teacher, “no more than twenty-one,” and she is new to Maycomb too.  Scout tries to help her out by explaining the ways of the town to her.  It does not go well. 

The biggest conflict between Scout and Miss Caroline is over Scout's reading.  Miss Caroline is prepared to teach the first grade the alphabet, and here she has a little girl who can read the newspaper.  You can see how she would be a little threatened. 

[As] I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows, and after making me read  … she discovered that I 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. (Ch. 2) 

Scout is puzzled by this, because her father never actively taught her to read.  She is also upset by the idea that she would not be allowed to read, because she loves to read. 

Nonetheless, Scout tries to help Miss Caroline out.  She is obviously out of her depth and Scout aims to please.  

… I would have saved myself some inconvenience and Miss Caroline subsequent mortification, but it was beyond my ability to explain things as well as Atticus, so I said, “You’re shamin‘ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood.” (Ch. 2)

Miss Caroline decides she has had enough.  She spanks Scout with a ruler and sends her in a corner.  When the children realize that the teacher whipped Scout, they all laugh.  That was probably a little embarrassing to both of them.

When Scout complains about Miss Caroline, Atticus tells her that she needs to learn to look at things from others’ point of view.  She is getting her first lesson in empathy and growing up.  Miss Caroline is not from Maycomb.  She doesn’t understand Maycomb’s ways.  Scout tried to help her, but she didn’t realize that the teacher wouldn’t appreciate the way she did it.

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Miss Caroline is Scout's teacher in Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. In Chapter Two, Scout, the book's protagonist, attends school for the first time. Scout is so bright that she has already picked up reading naturally by looking through her father's papers. As Scout explains in the book, "I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers." This remark is funny because it implies that Scout is doing something wrong by looking at the papers. Miss Caroline assumes that Scout's father, Atticus, has instructed her to read, and she tells Scout that she must stop reading until she is older. Scout, who is a natural reader, takes an immediate dislike to her teacher when she hears this remark.

Miss Caroline, who is new to the town of Maycomb, also assumes that Walter Cunningham, one of Scout's fellow students, has forgotten his lunch when she hears that he has no money or food for lunch. However, as everyone, including Scout knows, Walter's family is too poor to afford lunch. Miss Caroline innocently offers to lend Walter money, committing a tactless mistake because Walter can never pay her back. Scout tries to explain the situation to her teacher, but Miss Caroline punishes her.

Scout's entry into the world beyond her house is troubled. Her failure to understand the ways of people around her will continue, in part because she has grown up in a fair house and the world around her is not as fair or open-minded. Later in the novel, Atticus tells Scout that he will continue to teach her to read but that she must not tell her teacher about it. Atticus's forms of educating his children are far more progressive and fair than those practiced in the Maycomb school.

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What events lead to the conflict between Scout and Miss Caroline?

Miss Caroline is not only an inexperienced teacher; she is also a "foreigner" to Maycomb County.  In Scout's precocious eyes, these are both marks against her first teacher.

Miss Caroline's inexperience causes her to become defensive when she discovers that Scout can read. Instead of being impressed or praising Scout, she insists that Scout no longer read at home.  Of course, this does not sit well with Scout.

Later, when Miss Caroline insensitively offers little Walter Cunningham charity in front of the other students, Scout--in an attempt to assist Miss Caroline--informs her of the Cunningham family's ways.  Miss Caroline does not appreciate a first grader telling her how things are done and punishes Scout.

Lee includes these incidents with Miss Caroline to satirize the flaws she had recognized in America's educational institutions.  She obviously felt that students with talents and academic abilities were held back by inexperienced or bullheaded teachers and that what was taught in schools was not useful for every day life (hence, Jem's discussion about learning the Dewey Decimal System).

The author also includes the Cunningham scene to illustrate Maycomb's idiosynchracies, incomprehensible to outsiders.

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What events lead to the conflict between Scout and Miss Caroline?

Scout not only knows about everyone in Maycomb, but she isn't afraid to stand up and speak out for everyone in her class.  The first thing she did that upset Miss Caroline was that she discovered that Scout knew how to read.

"[Miss Caroline] 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."

The second thing that caused her trouble was when she informed Miss Caroline of the Cunningham family's situation.  Although she didn't mean to come embarrass her, Scout hurt Miss Caroline's feelings for not knowing "how things are" in Maycomb. 

"You're shaming him Miss Caroline.  Walter hasn't got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can't use any stovewood."

These were the two major events that lead to her getting in "trouble" with her teacher

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