Study Guide

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Education

By Avi


A novel of education like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle presents us with many different kinds of learning to think about. As a young girl, Charlotte is educated at Barrington School for Better Girls, an institution where she picks up all of the usual subjects: "penmanship, spelling, and the ancient authors of morality" (14.21). The school provides a sound and traditional education for a proper young lady, that's for sure. On the Seahawk, however, an education of a very different kind takes place. Instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic, Charlotte learns how to handle a knife, climb in the rigging, and walk out onto the bowsprit (she even learns what the heck a bowsprit is). Experience on the high seas is valued over simple book learning. What's more, Charlotte is exposed to, and is fascinated by, the oral legends and lore passed down by the sailors. She also records, and reflects on, her adventures by writing in her journal. All of these forms of education contribute to the substantive development of Charlotte's character.

Questions About Education

  1. Are some kinds of education considered more appropriate for young girls than others?
  2. How is a ship like or unlike a school?
  3. Compare the stories Charlotte hears from the sailors with the kinds of material she covers at Barrington School for Better Girls. How are stories that are read different from stories that are told out loud? What is the difference between an oral and a written culture?
  4. How does gender determine the kind of education Charlotte receives?
  5. Is learning from books more valuable than learning from personal experience? Or vice versa?

Chew on This

Charlotte must combine her formal education with real-world experience in order to truly become an adult.

Charlotte's education on the boat is flawed because it gives her false expectations about what her role in society will be once she returns to America.