Friday, August 22, 2014

RIP Bel Kaufman

Did you read “Up the Down Staircase” in high school or later? I am reminded of this funny but disturbing bestselling 1965 autobiographical novel because its author, Bel Kaufman, died July 25th at the age of 103. The book was lauded because it portrayed the best and the worst of life in schools, with all the bureaucracy and problems, along with the joys of teaching and helping students learn and grow. According to the Associated Press, the book has sold more than 6 million copies, “Kaufman became a heroine for teachers and students worldwide,” and the book “helped start a trend of candid education books.” I remember reading this book and being bowled over by how real it seemed, and by how recognizable the school scenes were. Also by how strongly it criticized the educational realities of schools, yet how caring the main character was about her students. And the book was fun to read, and funny! As an aside: I had not known before I read Kaufman’s obituaries that she was the granddaughter of the famous Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. It makes one wonder, yet again, if there is a literary gene. In any case, thank you, Bel Kaufman, for this wonderful, influential, inspiring, and enjoyable book, and for your long career as a teacher, writer, and lecturer. You educated so many of us, and made a difference in so many lives, always with wit and humor.

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