Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crayola Curriculum, circa 1933

Older Daughter is reading To Kill A Mockingbird for her 8th-grade English class. I was intrigued by this passage:

The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techiniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything — at least, what one didn't know the other did. ... 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.


  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and that passage is one of my favorites. I first read it in 8th grade and have re-read it maybe 30 times since then, and I have new insights every time. I hope your daughter is enjoying it.

    It's worth noting that the book takes place during the Great Depression and was written in the early 60's, so Scout's hatred of school and the school's refusal to let her read and write (presumably based on Harper Lee's own memories or experiences) doesn't back up the "schools were so much better back in the day" argument many people make.

  2. Megan, very true. What I notice about Scout's problem is that she's a gifted kid in a full-inclusion classroom, not that it would have been described that way at the time. Scout is the daughter of the best-educated man in the county, and has grown up in a house full of books. She's way beyond her classmates intellectually.

  3. I think it's also interesting that Scout's constrained by a newly-graduated teacher who has learned the latest educational techniques and a system that dictates a kid will learn a certain skill a certain way at a certain age — no sooner. Her teachers probably mean well, but the experience is boring and pointless for Scout.

  4. This article's interesting. Apparently Harper Lee is pretty reclusive, but when the University of Alabama started an essay contest for schoolchildren on the topic of To Kill a Mockingbird, she attended the ceremony every year. "Her one stipulation for the contest was that children who were home-schooled be eligible to compete." Hmm!

  5. i went to gradeschool in the 70's and felt exactly like scout. didnt want the same for my children, so we homeschooled k-12. now they are in college honors programs and bored out of their minds. from what they share, it appears that college courses are mostly things my parents' generation learned in high school. except more politically correct.

    fantastic book! and im happy to hear your daughter is reading it in 8th grade. that gives me some hope :)