Skip to comments.Bel Kaufman, Who Told What School Was Really Like, Dies at 103
Posted on 07/25/2014 5:31:03 PM PDT by Borges
Bel Kaufman, a former New York City schoolteacher whose classic first novel, Up the Down Staircase shot through with despair and hopefulness, violence and levity, all manner of bureaucratic inanity and a blizzard of official memorandums so mind-bendingly illogical as to seem almost Kafkaesque was hailed as a stunningly accurate portrait of life in a gritty urban school when it was published in 1965, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 103.
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Up the Down Staircase is a terrific book. What a good, long life. Can you imagine being old enough to have memories of America in the World War I era?
Sandy Dennis starred in the 1966 movie. She was so pretty.
I guess it’s been like this for a long time, probably worse now.
All I remember is “hi Teach”, “hi pupe”.
Genius begets genius.
Ah, I stand corrected on my earlier post. She spent her early years in Europe, emigrating in her teens to America.
An awesome trove of memories, nonetheless, in 103 years!
An amazing kind, wonderful woman. Met her many times in NYC. She was a true raconteur as well.
Every couple of years I reread Up the Down Staircase. She always said it was much worse now than when she was teaching...
Loved the movie. Bel lived a long time, Sandy died so young. Just watched her in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
I did the play in a local rep. company when I was young. I even remember my characters name- Harry Kagan. It was that show which taught me my brooklyn accent. RIP Bel.
It was an old run-down urban school with hardwood floors that were warped with time and sanded to a smooth finish by generations of janitors, usually old, scrawny grey-haired guys who always had a mop bucket handy and scowled at you as you walked by. The exterior was drab brick and metal framed windows that made it almost look like a jail - or at least like the school that was featured on that "Welcome Back Kotter" TV show.
Tinny loudspeakers in each classroom in which the principal would often give impromptu lectures right in the middle of class. Some of the younger "hip" teachers would fling an eraser at the loudspeaker when this happened, which caused the class to crack up laughing every time.
When it was test time, the teacher would hand them out fresh from the mimeograph machine and the kids in the first few rows would get slightly high by smelling the sheets before handing them back. As I usually sat in the back row, there were not enough chemicals left in the paper to do anything for me.
This particular teacher would encourage us to take newspapers to school so that we could study "current events" while she left the classroom to "take a break."
So it was May of 1972 and I was reading the newspaper I brought with me to class. Featured on the front page was a story on Clifford Irving (who fraudulently claimed to help Howard Hughes write his autobiography); Bernadette Devlin, some nutty Irishwoman who slapped people in the House of Commons) and the Boston Bruins, who were charging their way to a Stanley Cup.
It was only about a month before the Watergate Break-in.
It was almost summer vacation and the large windows of the classroom were forced open to let in some fresh spring air. The windows were always hard to open because they had about 50 coats of paint on them and you had those thick metal screens that supposedly kept people from breaking in at night (as if anybody would want to break into that old, decaying school).
” I was sitting at a wooden Depression-Era desk with a wooden swivel chair attached by a metal frame to the desk itself, which had a hinged top and inkwell in the upper right corner in which we jammed any number of things.”
“When it was test time, the teacher would hand them out fresh from the mimeograph machine and the kids in the first few rows would get slightly high by smelling the sheets before handing them back. As I usually sat in the back row, there were not enough chemicals left in the paper to do anything for me.”
Our desks still had inkwells, too—though it had probably been decades since any ink bottles had actually been used there...
Long long ago I played Rusty, one of the children in the classroom, in our high school play. I was the one who threw the eraser out the window! 30+ years later it brings back fond memories.
Fantastic, hilarious book.
I’m surprised the latter day PC brown shirts didn’t hound her.
I graduated high school in 1985 but I remember the smell of the mimeograph “ditto” machine and that nice smell of newly printed sheets. It was good!!!!!!! BTW, remember filmstrips where you had to turn the frame at the sound of a bell, beep or “doink” from the record/cassette tape that was playing? Also who could forget those old 16mm films, most of them from “Coronet,” on how to go for a date, bring home a new baby, how to have good manner and so on. You can find those old film of www.archive.org, some of my friends and I watch them and have a good laugh.
TCM runs some of those types of documentaries at times.
I read Up the Down Staircase when I was 11. I was mystified by “Linda Rosen’s got the clap!” I had no earthly idea what “the clap” was, and it wasn’t in my junior dictionary.