To Kill a Mockingbird: Themes of Education

Back to To Kill a Mockingbird: Novel Study


Life Lessons and Values:

“Until you climb into his skin”

“It’s ugly but those are the facts of life” p.  contrast with Miss Caroline’s “Pre-ju-dice” p. and satirizes the educational system.

“Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird wouldn’t it?” p. 304 Atticus’ parenting style gives them more autonomy, he seems passive but teaches them lessons through what they observe. This is unorthodox and unconventional.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is” p. 124

“Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing… now Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks, folks.” p.250


School in the novel:

“I would be starting school in a week. I never looked forward more to anything in my life.” p. 17

“She found out I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste” p. 19

“I mumbled that I was sorry and retired meditating upon my crime” p. 19

“Now tell your father not to teach you any more. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I’ll try and take over from here and try to undo the damage.”

“Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now”

“We don’t write in the first grade, we print. You won’t learn to write until you’re in the third grade.” p18

The cats in Miss Caroline’s story “wore cunning little clothes” whilst the students in front of her to whom she is reading are “ragged, denim-shirted, [and] four-sacked skirted”p.18

“I was the last to leave, I saw her bury her head in her arms” p22.

“Miss Caroline was standing in the middle of the room, sheer horror flooding her face”

“Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a school teacher ever born c’n make me do nothing’ … He waited until he was sure she was crying and shuffled out of the building.” Irony p28

“We are a democracy and Germany is a dictatorship [Scout’s teacher said] Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.”


“She [Miss Caroline] was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, they were getting’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us.”

“Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home” p245 Scout is able to see through the ‘blindspots’  in society.


“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.” p. 36 Switch between the naive young Scout and the older, wiser Scout.


Ignorance and lack of formal education:

Lack of self-reflection and ignorance leads to racism. Education can effect change, however slowly: “Atticus Finch won’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step – it’s just a baby step, but it’s a step.” P.

“Folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ‘em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talking right, they’re got to want to learn themselves” p. 139


Literacy and the Black community:

Baptist Church: Jem suggests they save collection money to buy hymn books – “Calupurnia laughed. ‘Wouldn’t do any good, she said. They can’t read.’ Can’t read? I asked. All those folks?’ ‘That’s right, can’t but four folks in First Purchase read… I’m one of them.” P. 137  Scout’s sense of incredulity with her double questioning and she equates reading with breathing (p. 20) it is so natural to her. Scout’s realization: “That Calupurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me.” P. 138

Sometimes there is a negative reaction to aloofness: “They’d think I was puttin’ on airs” p. 139.  “Quite Miss Mayella-ring me” p.


Childish ignorance to the Black community:

“Why do you talk nigger-talk to the – to your folks when you know it’s not right?” p. 139

“Coloured folks don’t show their ages so fast, she said. ‘Maybe because they can’t read.” P. 138 Learned behaviour


Access to education: “When he was a boy there were no schools” Jim Crow and segregation

Bob Ewell’s pride: “How do you think I sign my relief cheques?” p.


Authorial Intention:

These depictions of schooling highlight Harper Lee’s belief that the education system was too rigid and ill-suited for many children.

Miss caroline serves to personify education. She is ignorant of her own ineffectiveness early on in the novel; this is tempered by Harper Lee with the sympathy and humanity with which we relate to her suffering as her intentions are good but her actions are flawed. This reinforces how the system of educatino as a whole is improperly suited to many of the students.

Harper Lee uses education as a medium to convey the disparity between the two communities: black and white.

Education itself offers enlightenment for the characters however, this is not the ideal: the Cunninghams behave in a more morally upstanding way. Formal education may evade the Cunnighams and the black community but have a moral education: “ good clean living negro”


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