Before Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds or Boston Public, there was Up the Down Staircase.
Written in 1965 by Bel Kaufman, the novel was soon adapted to stage and screen and, years later, is still
the prototype for an entire genre of media pointed at the problems with public education. Kaufman was
a 20-year veteran teacher of NYC's public high schools when she wrote the novel, her first.
Although the story focuses on inner city schools in the late 1950's, much of that criticism and
frustration still exists today. Kaufman believes her story is more relevant now than ever before.
“Everything described in my fiction is today reality. Only computers and condoms are new.” It is
this relevance that brings educators and students back to the novel.
The idealism fostered into today's universities often leaves fledgling teachers unprepared for the
harsh realities of schools today--particularly in impoverished areas. While first-year teachers
are often considered naive and foolhardy for believing they can make such a difference, their zeal
and love for education is the stuff inspiration is made of. Most new teachers have labored over the
decision to work in an inner city school, where idealism fights pragmatism there like nowhere else. Do you
go where the kids need success most, or where you're most likely to succeed? Internal struggles like
this one haunt many teachers who are at once invested in their work and driven by their calling.
When Sylvia Barrett takes her first awkward steps into Calvin Coolidge High School, we're right there with her. We
want so badly for her to make that difference. But when you have to fight the
students just to help them... when you're fighting their community's resistance to change, their
dying hope, their frustration and anger... when your own school administration refuses to help you,
and often stands in your way... it seems you're scrambling to get up the down staircase. So is the story of the
fictional Sylvia Barrett, and many real-life teachers just like her.
Some information obtained via http://www.jerseycity.k12.nj.us/schools/mcnairhs/edition2/ups_and_downs.htm