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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is Scout's view of the education system in Alabama?

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Scout absolutely detests Alabama's education system and tries her best to avoid attending school throughout the novel. Scout's difficulties with Alabama's education begin on the first day of school when Miss Caroline forbids her from reading and writing at home. Instead of fostering and facilitating Scout's advanced abilities, Miss Caroline attempts to hinder Scout's intellectual progress because of her rigid views on education. Atticus even has to make a deal with Scout to get her to attend school, by agreeing to secretly read with her at home. Scout reveals her negative views regarding Alabama's education system by saying,

As for me, I knew nothing except what I gathered from Time magazine and reading everything I could lay hands on at home, but as I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me (Lee, 33).

In chapter 9, Scout describes her "campaign to avoid school" by mentioning her numerous attempts to feign dizziness and stomach aches. Scout even pays Miss Rachel's cook's son a nickel to rub her head against his in hopes of contracting ringworm. When Scout reaches the third grade, she is astonished to witness Miss Gates's blatant hypocrisy when her teacher claims that there is no prejudice in America during a class activity. Overall, Scout has an unfavorable view of Maycomb's education system and does her best to avoid going to school. Harper Lee emphasizes the importance of a moral education compared to the terrible experience in Alabama's rigid, prejudiced school system.

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To put it mildly, she thinks very little of it. To expand on that a bit, she finds it overly rigid and parochial (though even Scout probably wouldn't use that word yet), as well as a simple waste of time. Think of how the system (in the person of Miss Caroline) reacts when Scout already knows how to read. She says "…tell your father not to teach you any more. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind" and refers to his teaching as "damage." This is Atticus she's talking about!

While she grows more accustomed to it, it is clear that Scout's mind is too big for this limited formal system; she learns more by her free reading, her time with Calpurnia, her games, and, of course, Atticus.

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