Throughout the narrative, the reader gradually is introduced to different character and settings, thus to differing themes simultaneously. An example of this occurs relatively near the start of the book when Scout first starts school along with Jem. The theme of education is thus introduced and has a dramatic effect on both of the siblings’ attitudes to certain people and situations. The theme of education may not only necessarily indicate an association with a formal education, but also the vital moral education they both receive from their father Atticus, who is notably knowledgeable and wise. This will also exaggerate the importance of the various themes presented throughout the book to the reader, especially ones such as empathy which closely relate in the fight with racism in that time period.
Firstly, I would like to start by highlighting some of the points that are related to Scout ad Jem being affected by formal education. When Scout starts school, she encounters her first teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, who prefers order in the classroom, as with the schedule and grading system. Since she has been educated at college, she has learnt to stick by a set format at which every student should follow, disallowing room for special/personal cases or flexibility. This, in turn affects Scout more than anyone in her class as she is already literate. The restriction, at which Scout is presented with, causes her to become distressed and out of place; the school system is flawed and ridiculous in the opinion of both Scout and her brother who knows already about the “Dewey Decimal System”.
Scout reacts to Jem; to the fact that Miss Caroline orders her to tell her father to stop teaching her to read, “that damn lady says Atticus’ been teaching me to read and for him to stop it”. This use of the word ‘damn’ shows that Scout is being assertive about the situation and that she finds the situation deeply unfathomable. Scout is annoyed at the fact that she is blamed for something that she didn’t mean for harm. This leads me onto another point to say that she is curious; however her formal education exploits this, and gets her into trouble. She cannot help this as she finds herself “wallowing illicitly”, she is indulged into reading in places unlawfully (at her age) such as the church and “could not remember not being able to read hymns”. There is a sense of innocence about Scout revealed in this context.
Within the text, we learn from a few folks in Maycomb that being a “gentlemen” has nothing to do with possessions. For example, in the classroom, we witness the likeness of Little Chuck Little, how small he was, he still acted like a responsible adult. He comforts Miss Caroline when she is frightened, offers he a glass of water and stands up to the bully of a boy, Buris Ewell. He his considerate, “There ain’t no need to fear a cootie. I’ll just fetch some cool water”, this explains he is willing to help someone in need and that even if he “didn’t know when his next meal was coming from…he was a born gentlemen”. This is a similar situation with Atticus, as he doesn’t possess any great assets, and he does admit his family are relatively poor, as hit heavily by the Great Depression; but in despite of this he still shows respect to everyone- “Well I do my best to love everybody”.
Outside of the classroom, Scout and Jem are educated by their father, and learn the great value of empathy and getting into another persons’ “skin”. Thus peoples’ privacy must be respected, the feelings of other people must be considered before judgement. A strong emphasis of this in the book is on Boo Radley due the mysterious behaviour he shows by not coming out of his house. Even Scout and Jem at the start of the novel have prejudices about Boo, because of the rumours they heard and enhanced themselves. This leads them to become eager about actually seeing Boo, but their measures become too far; Atticus warns Scout and told her she must become considerate and leave Boo alone; she must “walk in their shoes”. This idea of empathy is mentioned four times throughout the novel by Atticus specifically, showing the importance of this theme.
Maycomb is seen to be a Christian town, with its old-fashioned ruins and existing church. However we do see through the book that a lot of the people in Maycomb do not act in a Christian manner, as with their prejudices and suspicions. There are a minority of people in Maycomb who are strict religious followers, one of which is famously known, Mr Radley. Miss Maudie teaches Scout that she herself is a Baptist but not a “foot-washing” one as described for Mr Radley; she tells Scout that they say she is going to hell just because she grows flowers. This may explain his unusual behaviour for keeping Boo Radley locked inside the house; he feels guilty that his son was boisterous many years ago. This act of restricting Boo from the outside world for so long would be seen as doctrinaire, cruel and harsh, for a crime so trivial in the eyes of the people in Maycomb, when they see how Boo has been treated. The term “foot-washing” used by Miss Maudie means that Mr Radley is very strict and abides by his rules always. “He took the Word of God as his only law”, reinforces the importance of religion in Radley’s life; and may reflect the lives of other people in Maycomb. Thus this sort of discipline can lead to ignorance, especially of the feelings of other people (in this instance, Boo Radley).
Scout and Jem, within the household learn about people close in their lives, such as Calpurnia whose reputation changes for the reader as the story progresses; first off severe and unfair, but after loving and considerate. This gradual change, allows the reader to become more engaged in the novel as the character itself develops simultaneously. They also learn that she is more gallant in her communication of speech, compared to most white people in Maycomb, who are stereotypically, more superior. This earns her respect from Scout and Jem as now she appears as a friend and a mother-like figure; not a servant. Her good qualities seem harsh under the words of Scout, but in fact are essential in order to bring Scout and Jem up in the best manner possible for childhood. “Her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard”, Scout criticises the actions of Calpurnia; yet she doesn’t realise that she is trying to discipline them and point them in the right direction for life. However, Scout’s perception of Calpurnia changes later on in the novel as Calpurnia becomes more welcoming and cordial to Scout when Jem grows up; “so you just come right on in the kitchen when you feel lonesome”, she comforts Scout when she feels lonely; as a friend would, thus they build their friendship stronger together.
Another lesson, Scout learned from Miss Maudie was the destruction prejudice could cause in a society. She explains that prejudice is the main root of most of Maycomb’s mistakes and problems. The fact that the author uses an example of this effect for objects that the reader can understand, makes the effect of prejudice seem more real and destructive; “one sprig of nut-grass can ruin whole yard”. The nut-grass, in this case, would be prejudice and the yard, Maycomb. Scout learns a lot about life from Miss Maudie as with Atticus because she is level headed and a role model to her.
In summary, I have focused closely on the effect of education on Scout and Jem, in one form or another, and have arrived at a conclusion that they are educated formally and informally, at school and at home. They have been mainly influenced by adults who have more experience in life than them which is reassuring for them and for the reader. Also, education is delivered through an occurring of events, not just advice given; for example when Scout has her first days at school, she experiences a widespread of confrontations with both adults and children. The education system has a dramatic effect on the opinions of Scout and how she conducts herself at home; the system is corrupt and rigid, not being able to cater for special exceptions. This much forebodes how the trial similarly operates later on in the plot.