In Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," the main character, Scout Finch, learns the value of education as her father, Atticus, teaches her to read and instructs her in life lessons. On her first day of school, she realizes through her new teacher, Caroline Fisher, that not all adults deal with people the same way. While both Atticus and Caroline share similarities in their occupations and status in the community, their teaching philosophies and ways of dealing with people are very different.
Breaking the Rules
"To Kill a Mockingbird" takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, a small town with a rigid social class structure and a corresponding set of rules. At different points in the story, both Atticus and Caroline go against these customs. Atticus defies the Maycomb social order when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, an African-American accused of rape. On Scout's first day of school, Caroline attempts to discipline Burris Ewell, although teachers typically tolerate the Ewell children's behavior because they end up dropping out. While Atticus' actions are rooted in a desire for justice, Caroline's occur due to ignorance of Maycomb's ways.
Education and Philosophies
While Atticus and Caroline both strongly value education, they have very different backgrounds. Atticus was home schooled by his father and is largely a self-made man, but Caroline's knowledge of new teaching methods, like the Dewey Decimal System, reveals that she most likely received a very structured traditional education. The characters also have different teaching philosophies. While Atticus encourages his children to work toward their highest potential, Caroline is rigidly committed to specific standards. For example, when she finds out Scout knows how to read, she demands that Scout tell Atticus to stop teaching her because he doesn't know how.
At the end of chapter three, Atticus sums up his philosophy of dealing with people when he advises Scout to try to understand things from others' points of view rather than judging them. When Walter Cunningham, Scout's poor classmate, joins the family for lunch, Atticus practices this advice by treating him kindly in spite of his family's reputation. By contrast, Caroline deals with people according to a rigid set of rules. Rather than adjust her teaching style to fit Scout's advanced reading, she instead condemns it and insists Scout learn the same way as her classmates.
Ultimately, both Atticus and Caroline hold considerable authority over children. However, they also exert their authority in different ways. Atticus quietly asks for respect from his children by treating them as adults. He communicates with them the same way he does with adults and is not afraid to explain the ugliness of Tom Robinson's situation with honesty rather than hiding it from them. Caroline, however, demands authority with physical and verbal discipline. Although Scout's explanation for why Walter won't accept her offer to buy him lunch isn't disrespectful in itself, Caroline sees it as an affront to her authority and disciplines her for it.
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