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Teacher Revisits Once Popular Book Up the Down Staircase

Teacher Revisits Popular Book, 'Up the Down Staircase'

In early July, Bel Kaufman, author of Up the Down Staircase, died at 103 years old. Shortly after her death, teacher and writer Samuel G. Freedman revisited Kaufman's (now out of print) classic novel.

"Up the Down Staircase" spent 64 weeks on the best-seller list after its release in 1965, and inspired a popular film adaptation in 1967, said Freedman in a recent New Yorker article. Kaufman's book follows a Sylvia Barrett, a first-year teacher at a large public high school, Coolidge High. The book follows Barrett through one semester, and watches her grow. She gives up a job offer from a private school in order to stay at Coolidge and help students. The book is largely autobiographical as Kaufman was a New York  public school teacher herself.

One reason Up the Down Staircase has aged so well has to do with the particular moment in which its story is set. Kaufman’s own teaching career coincided with a golden age in public education, and it was a golden age for some largely ignored reasons. Public schools were only expected to send a small fraction of students on to college. Congress’s restriction of immigration in 1924, not fully lifted until 1965, gave schools two generations to acculturate and assimilate newcomers. The horrific job market during the Great Depression, combined with commonplace sexism of the day, filled public-school faculties with overqualified educators, many of them women with no other career options apart from nursing.


Read the full story. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, EducationWorld Contributor

Did you read "Up the Down Staircase"? What lessons in the book apply to teachers today? Please share in the comments below.

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