There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes." (p. 226) Their placement on this social ladder allowed the Cunninghams to maintain a certain level of pride and dignity.
Education, while important, took a back seat to farming. One of the Cunningham children, Walter, stayed in the first grade for several years because he had to miss school every spring to help on the farm. However, he still attended school when he could, and he even dressed in his best clothes on the first day, though he did not wear shoes. Once another child in the family was old enough to take over the work for him, Walter was sent straight back to school. This shows that education did have some value in the Cunningham household. The necessity to work, however, did not allow the family to take full advantage of the education system at that time.
In addition, like many farmers at that time, the Cunninghams had many children. This was probably in part in order to increase the number of workers on the farm. Without the extra help, the farm would not run and the family could not survive. So, while childhood in many families like the Finches was a time for innocence, play and fun, it was not such a time for the Cunninghams. For them, childhood was a time to contribute to the survival of the family and help with work on the farm.
Children grow up fast under such extreme circumstances. Walter was able to discuss farming like an adult with Atticus during lunch one day. The children of the Cunningham family were also taught to keep the same principles as their father when it came to matters of money and borrowing. The Cunninghams did not take things for free. Mr. Cunningham used Atticus's services one winter, and he was unable to pay him in cash, so he brought stove wood, hickory nuts, and various other things throughout the winter in order to pay what he owed. By the end of the winter, "Mr. Cunningham has more than paid him." (p. 21) Likewise, Walter would not accept money from his teacher on the first day of school to buy his lunch because he knew he would not be able to pay her back. In addition, when asked where his lunch was, rather than explain to the teacher that he could not afford to bring or buy a lunch, Walter lied to her and said he had forgotten his lunch at home. The family was proud, despite their economic status. Having such principles helped to make the family feel like upstanding members of the community. Though everyone in the community knew them to be poor, they did not think of themselves as impoverished or in need of charity from the community.
This also reflects on the importance of pride to the Cunninghams. According to Atticus, Mr. Cunningham "was willing to go hungry to keep his land and vote as he pleased." (p. 21) Rather than get a job and work for another man, Mr. Cunningham struggled year to year in order to keep his farm and his pride in tact.
The Cunninghams' attitudes toward racism were complicated. If Jem's description of Maycomb was accurate, then they could consider themselves better off than the Negroes. In order to boost themselves up, they formed racist attitudes,