There are at least two episodes in Harper Lee's novel in which she satirizes the progressive theories of education and the episode from Chapter 2 is one of them, and Atticus's allusion to educational methods in his closing arguments at the Robinson trial is the other in which he alludes to social promotion in Chapter 20. In Chapter 2, Miss Caroline is offended that Scout's father, who knows nothing of the progressive educational theories of John Dewey, should presume to teach his daughter to read. No matter that Scout can read; she has been taught using ¨incorrect¨ methods which Miss Caroline feels could do her irreparable harm later on.
Miss Caroline's strict adherence to the ¨progressive¨ theories of Dewey ignore the fact that Scout is an accomplished reader without having followed any of these theories because the method of education supersedes the outcome. Evidently, it is the method that is of paramount importance, not the outcome. When Miss Caroline insists that ¨reading should begin with a fresh mind,¨ she indicates her inability to instruct children creatively on an individual basis, and to refuse to recognize certain cognitive differences in children. Instead, strict adherence to Dewey's theories of progressive education must be observed.
In a further satiric commentary, Lee has Jem explain to Scout that Miss Caroline is ¨introducing a new method of teaching¨ when she waves cards at the children with sight words upon them. The "Dewey Decimal System" [pun on John Dewey's name as it is confused by Jem with the library system of classifying books] "consisted in part of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed the, cat, rat, man, and you."