Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

What satirical points are made on the subject of education in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'm going to guess that your question concerns the satire about education found in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Author Harper Lee takes many jabs at public education in her novel. Atticus, the wisest and most intelligent man in Maycomb, never attended grade school, being educated at home. Scout's first grade teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, is a overly-dressed beauty--

She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. She boarded... in Miss Maudie's upstairs front room, and when Miss Maudie introduced us to her, Jem was in a haze for days.

but her college education has not prepared her for the small town life found in Maycomb, nor the poor, unsophisticated children who live there. Miss Caroline is an outsider from dreaded Winston County in North Alabama, and she immediately mistakes Scout's intelligence and advanced reading skills for having been taught improperly by Atticus, who allowed Scout's "wallowing illicitly in the daily papers." Miss Caroline's good intentions all backfire on the first day of school, culminating in her discovery of lice in Burris Ewell's hair and his proclamation that she is a "snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher." Miss Caroline is left in tears, having to be encouraged by the rest of her first graders to get back to the business of teaching.

Lee's deliberate misidentification of Jem's pronouncement of the Dewey Decimal System as a new and progressive form of teaching is another example of her disdain for modern education. (The Dewey Decimal System, founded by Melvil Dewey, is a library identification method; Miss Caroline's new strategies are actually part of John Dewey's educational reforms that were popular during the 1930s.)Scout's third grade teacher, Miss Gates, proves to be a hypocritical racist, denouncing Adolf Hitler for his treatment of the Jews while personally believing in the suppression of Maycomb's African-American citizens. Lee projects an attitude that formal schooling is actually a detriment and a waste of time: Children can learn more from their worldly experiences than from the time spent in a classroom.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Consider the object of ridicule that Miss Fisher and her new-fangled ideas are - the role-reversal that occurs when she is the crying child and Scout and one or two other children take charge and 'educate' her - the contrast with Miss Blount, much more traditional and effective as an educator...

Where do the children learn? Not in school for sure, except indirectly, as in the chapter about democracy and the rise of nazism in Germany and the way Scout really learns the meaning of hypocrisy. They learn so much more outside school from a huge variety of characters and episodes - Mrs Dubose, Dolphus Raymond, the Missionary Circle, Braxton Underwood, the mad dog incident, the visit to First Purchase, the harsh lessons Dill has to learn from his own parents... Harper Lee seems to be saying that school education is the minor part and that the real world is where real learning takes place.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ever hear the saying "I never let my schooling interfere with my...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

education"? Much like this saying, the school system inTo Kill a Mockingbird is portrayed cynically. For instance, Scout's teacher, Miss Caroline, scolds her for knowing how to read before coming to school, claiming that Atticus does not know how to teach. It seems as if she is more concerned with her lesson plans and less concerned about the well-being of the students. No teacher should be angry that a student knows how to read ahead of schedule!

Also, Miss Caroline does not seem to understand the culture of the town and her students, since when Scout explains that a Cunningham will not take anything for free, Miss Caroline slaps her hand, instead of trying to understand. School is supposed to be a place where a student can grow intellectually and emotionally, but Scout does not have that experience the first year.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team