Up the Down Staircase

Posted by barb on Aug 9, 2003 in Books |

by Bel Kaufman

I actually read this book many years ago, when I was in junior high. My favorite teacher had mentioned it in class — I think as an example of a story told in a non-traditional way. Up the Down Staircase tells the story of a first-time teacher, Miss Barrett, and her first semester in a public high school. But rather than being told as a traditional narrative, the story is told through the many pieces of paper that cross Miss Barrett’s desk or end up in her wastebasket. These papers take the form of mimeos from the office, intraschool notes between teachers, written compositions from the students, notes left in the suggestion box, and letters written by Miss Barrett to her good friend in the suburbs.

While the novel was first published in 1964, it is striking how many of the complaints about the education system hold up today. Among the issues raised are too many students per teacher, kids dropping out and joining gangs or working to support their family, insufficient facilities, unreasonable demands’ on teachers’ time, and kids in school with knives. It seems that the only thing that has changed in the intervening 40 years is that school has become more violent.

Up the Down Staircase is an excellent book that really stands the test of time.

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