1930's Research Project

To Kill A Mockingbird by: Harper Lee

Introduction to Education

The year is 1930:

The sun is just starting to make its first appearances over the horizon. The small town is bathed in color and shadow as the world starts to wake up. The day is Monday, and all of the families are just now starting to wake up to the promising morning as they hustle their kids of to school.


The year is 2013:

What was the schooling and education really like 83 years ago? Besides all of the general things we already know, what was it really like? Well, take my hand and we will get a blast from the past as we go back to the 1930's and experience what it was truly like to go to school, 83 years ago.

Education in the 1930's


Separate but equal. That phrase bounced, unsettled, in Shirley's mind as she walked to grammar school early the morning of her first day of school. She was wearing her new starched dress, along with her high-top shoes and socks that went to her knee that the kids nick-named "elastics".


Shirley is going to be our fictional character. We will follow her around school and throughout her day to find out and really see what it was like to go to school in the 1930's.

So, first off, about the clothes. Girls were required to wear dresses to school. Boys had to wear overalls. Both had to wear shoes like the ones Shirley was wearing, and socks like the ones Shirley was wearing. So, so far everything is like it should be.

Now, the phrase "separate but equal" was a common phrase used back then to mask, or use as an excuse, the "necessary evil" it was to separate the Black children from the White children. Also, just to separate races from each other as if one was superior.

Also, the elementary school of our time, was called grammar school by many in the 30's.


As Shirley walked into the class room, she noticed the neat rows that the desks were aligned in. She chose a desk and sat down just like she noticed her other class mates. Then Shirley put her lunch pail down on the ground next to her and her tablet and pencils and books on top of her desk. She got out her ink well and put it in the hole then got out her pen.


Now, just as Shirley is seeing this classroom, that is what it would have been like. There would have been a chalk board in the front of the class room and connected to it would have been a small ledge used to hold the chalk and eraser.

The desks would have been small. Before the fountain pen, people would have had to have a pen and dip it into the ink to use it. So, in order to not spill the ink (for I presume that would be the reason), they created a little hole in the corner of the desk for students to put their ink wells in.

Now for further information about the desks. each desk (in most cases) were attached to each other's desks and the floor. They were small and all of the desks would face the teacher's desk to which there would be the chalk board behind it.

Also, this was a time way before lunch boxes and backpacks and things like that. So, students would bring their lunches in little lunch pails, or sometimes they would go home for lunch.

As for their school things, they (the students) were to have a lined writing tablet for things like spelling, arithmetic and other subjects and pencils to write on them with.


Shirley's teacher was very nice. Her name was Miss Carol. Miss Carol taught them a lot of nice things and read to them from some books. The children played get-to-know-you games and practiced their reading, writing and math skills. Overall, Shirley's day had been good. She played with the other children during recess and made some new friends during lunch too. When she went back to the classroom they learned some more and then it was time to go home. Shirley could not have had a better first day of school.


Have you ever thought that your teacher lived in the school? Well, back then almost all of the teachers were single ladies. There would be a building right outside of the school, or near it, that all of the teachers would live in.

Now, saying our fictional character Shirley was young, that seems like a typical day at school. First they would learn, then have lunch and recess then learn some more.

So, if you were a young child living in the thirties, this would have been a typical day for you.

Education in To Kill A Mickingbird

The theme of education in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, there is evidence through out the book in a number of ways of the teaching and learning taking place. First, you get the typical school days, when Jem and Scout are being taught by their teachers. Secondly, they had the everyday simple things that Atticus taught his children.


So, first their individual education. Through out the book Jem and Scout went to school. Although most of the book was based during their summer vacation, it does mention their school days a little. In the beginning of the book it mentions their school life. On pages 20-38 in specific, it tells about Scout's first day in first grade. I'm not going to quote it all, but I will summarize it. So Scout had to wear a dress to school, just like any other girl in the 1930's. She also had to walk with Jem to school. It wasn't as far as some school children had to go in the 1930's. As far as the classroom goes it does mention that the black board was in the front of the room. Now, Scout's school days were normal and like any day should be.


Atticus teaches Jem and Scout most of what they know to be right and wrong, and anything that parents should teach their kids. Through out the book, he give little hidden pieces of advice that are not only meant for Jem and Scout, but for all of us. On page 39, Atticus gives his famous quote to scout after she had a rough day at school, and I quote "-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." (Lee 39) What Atticus was trying to display in this quote is that you cannot simply judge someone because of what they said or did, but rather try and understand why they said or did so you can help them. Earlier on page 39 before he gave his metaphor he said this "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-" (Lee 39) and basically meaning that to understand a person truly, you have to be able to see both sides of the argument.

At another point in the book after Jem and Scout had gone and read to Mrs. Dubose, Atticus says the following on the matter "...instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do." (Lee 149) Now, this is what Atticus was trying to get across to Jem (and Scout) in that moment: that the real courage is from saying you did something wrong and fixing it, than denying it and being a coward.

Now for one more quote. it is from Atticus, of course, and it says the following: "Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open." (Lee 366) Now at this point in the book, it is the night that Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout. Atticus thinks that Jem stabbed Bob so he was basically trying to say is that if we lie and don't tell the truth, it will be harder to keep up in the future, and things like that.


I know that the theme of education does exist in the book through school and by Atticus.