Study Guide

Matilda Education

By Roald Dahl

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Chapter 1

"I'm wondering what to read next," Matilda said. "I've finished all the children's books."

"You mean you've looked at the pictures?"

"Yes, but I've read the books as well." (1.20-22)

You can't really blame Mrs. Phelps here, for being a bit skeptical about Matilda's abilities. She looks like a five-year-old, so she must read like one, too, right? What's so awesome about this little scene is that we get the sense, early on, that Matilda will keep defying the expectations of her teachers and the other adults in her life. They won't be able to educate her in the way they typically would teach a student. It's a different ballgame altogether.

School teachers suffer a good deal from having to listen to this sort of twaddle from proud parents, but they usually get their own back when the time comes to write the end-of-term reports. If I were a teacher I would cook up some real scorchers for the children of doting parents. (1.4)

Apparently, all parents think their kids are the greatest things since sliced bread, and the teachers have to wait for the report cards in order to tell the whole grim truth. The narrator says he'd have fun with this part, cooking up scorchers (or making up lies) so that the parents are really surprised to learn what their children act like in school. Sounds kind of fun (if a little mean).

Mrs. Phelps

"A fine writer will always make you feel that," Mrs Phelps said. "And don't worry about the bits you can't understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music." (1.49)

Mrs. Phelps would be an awesome teacher. She's so much more than a librarian who gives Matilda books. She shows Matilda how to read them, by letting the words wash over her. That just goes to show that reading can be about more than just gaining facts and knowledge; it can be an experience.

Chapter 7

Miss Honey was feeling quite quivery. There was no doubt in her mind that she had met a truly extraordinary mathematical brain, and words like child-genius and prodigy went flitting through her head. She knew that these sorts of wonders do pop up in the world from time to time, but only once or twice in a hundred years. (7.58)

Amazingly, Miss Honey is only the second adult to realize how special Matilda is. She can tell Matilda needs to be nurtured, not put down. What's awesome about this scene is the physical reaction that Miss Honey has to Matilda's genius. She's so excited her spine is practically tingling. It's thrilling for her to meet such a wonder-kid, which tells us that Miss Honey is an awesome teacher. She revels in her students' achievements, even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with her.

Chapter 8

[Miss Honey] felt wildly excited. She had just met a small girl who possessed, or so it seemed to her, quite extraordinary qualities of brilliance. There had not been time yet to find out exactly how brilliant the child was, but Miss Honey had learnt enough to realize that something had to be done about it as soon as possible. It would be ridiculous to leave a child like that stuck in the bottom form. (8.1)

Matilda is so awesome that Miss Honey does something she would never do otherwise: visit the terrible Trunchbull. That's some serious devotion to her student.

Chapter 13
The Trunchbull

"It makes me vomit," she went on, "to think that I am going to have to put up with a load of garbage like you in my school for the next six years. I can see that I'm going to have to expel as many of you as possible as soon as possible to save myself from going round the bend." (13.7)

Unlike Miss Honey (and Mrs. Phelps, too), the Trunchbull is pretty much the worst teacher Shmoop can imagine. She sees a school as a place made worse by kids, rather than as a place designed to nurture them. Can you imagine if your principal called kids vomitous? Or garbage? Can you spell fired?

Chapter 14
The Trunchbull

"[…] My idea of a perfect school, Miss Honey, is one that has no children in it at all. One of these days I shall start up a school like that. I think it will be very successful." (14.3)

Here, we get a handle on what a bad educator the Trunchbull is. She thinks the best school will be one with no kids. None. Of course this is hilarious, because the idea itself makes absolutely zero sense. A school with no students isn't a school at all. It's just an empty building. And what, in the world, is the point of that?

Chapter 16

There was a moment of silence, and Matilda, who had never before heard great romantic poetry spoken aloud, was profoundly moved. "It's like music," she whispered. (16.43)

You can tell that Matilda loves learning and stretching her mind. She doesn't just try to learn things to get good grades or to please other people. Far from it. (After all, the more she learns, the more her parents seem to hate her.) Instead, Matilda likes learning for the sake of learning—it moves her, brings her joy, expands her world.

Chapter 19

From then on, every day after school, Matilda shut herself in her room and practised with the cigar. And soon it all began to come together in the most wonderful way. Six days later, by the following Wednesday evening, she was able not only to lift the cigar up into the air but also to move it around exactly as she wished. It was beautiful. (19.16)

There's no library Matilda can go to in order to teach herself how to move the cigar with her mind. She has to do it on her own. She has to teach herself, and she does it splendidly. Sometimes, learning is just a matter of a little imagination combined with a lot of practice.

Chapter 20
Miss Honey

"They have all learnt their three-times table. But I see no point in teaching it to them backwards. There is little point in teaching anything backwards. The whole object of life, Headmistress, is to go forwards. I venture to ask whether even you, for example, can spell a simple word like wrong backwards straight away. I very much doubt it." (20.24)

Let's be fair: the Trunchbull has a point. In business and everyday life, people can enjoy great success when they think outside of the box. So when the Trunchbull has the kids spell things backwards, it might be a way for her to help them expand their minds. But of course that's giving her far too much credit. Really, she's just trying to trap them into messing up, so Miss Honey has to come to their defense.

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