To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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In To Kill a Mockingbird, does the Dewy decimal System have anything to do with reading? Why is it ironic that Miss Caroline calls her new education method this? What kind of irony is this?

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Stephanie Gregg eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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On several occasions, Jem's attempts to comfort Scout cause the observant reader to giggle, and this is one of the most amusing.  Scout's first day of school is incredibly frustrating.  She has inadvertently angered her new teacher, Miss Caroline, more than once for knowing things she shouldn't and voicing her opinion when no one asks for it.  In fact, Miss Caroline chastises Scout for what might be another teacher's dream: Scout has come to first grade already knowing how to read, thanks to her father, Atticus.  This is a form of situational irony, since one would not expect a teacher to discourage a student from reading under any circumstance, even if it meant she might have to work harder to challenge such a student.

When Jem tries to make Scout feel better about Miss Caroline, whom she has decided that she hates, he explains to Scout that her new teacher is using a new way of teaching called the Dewey Decimal System.  Jem, of course, has misunderstood. This system has nothing to do with learning to read but is instead a method of organizing books in the library.  What Jem probably heard is a reference to John Dewey and his progressive educational theories popular during this time period.  

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