Notes on Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" Characters:
Sylvia: the narrator and protagonist, a sassy, defiant African-American girl who resists the educational overtures of Miss Moore. The story's plot centers on a "teaching moment" or pedagogical breakthrough, where Sylvia is disturbed out of her complacency, having been exposed to the other side of the social ladder.
Sugar: one of Sylvia's better friends, a sidekick if you will. Sugar noticeably picks up on Miss Moore's lesson faster than Sylvia, and she even defies Sylvia's authority in the process, which contributes to Sylvia's feelings of disruption.
Flyboy, Fat Butt, Mercedes, Rosie, Junebug, Q.T.: other children who accompany Miss Moore on the field trip to F.A.O. Schwartz
Miss Moore: college educated woman who "gives back" to her community by volunteering to assist with the children's education. Ostensibly, or at least viewed from the narrator's perspective, Miss Moore is the antagonist of the story. She is preventing the children from having fun on their own terms, saddling them with boring, pointless instruction. When we step back with the understanding that Sylvia's point of view is limited and unreliable, we recognize that Miss Moore is an actual ally to the children; her mission is to raise their consciousness, to teach them to recognize the social inequality endemic to America. She adopts techniques reminiscent of Paulo Freire's problem posing methods, as discussed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Instead of teaching the children knowledge in the abstract, e.g. arithmetic, Miss Moore forces them to apply their math skills to real world, practical situations: paying a cab fare and calculating the 10% tip, pricing the items in the toy store, which serves as the basis for a larger life lesson about equal opportunity, thus making the children understand their disadvantaged position on the social scale. Her toughest sell is Sylvia. At the end of the story, Miss Moore has triumphed, in that Sylvia...
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