Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Understood Betsy Quotes

My boys and I are really enjoying Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  She was actually one of the first Americans to introduce Montessori methods to the United States during the 1910's.  This work has a lot to say about education without being a treatise on education.  I appreciate the lessons that are sprinkled throughout but aren't too heavy handed.  The story follows a young girl raised in the city by her Aunt who is always trying to "understand" her.  Due to a family sickness, she is forced to move out to the farm with her Cousin and learns a lot about herself in the process.  I laughed at some of the "understanding" that Aunt Frances provided - my boys didn't get it - but it is well described.

Here are a few of my favorite parts.

After reading her lesson well at school, her response to her teacher is:
The little girl went up to her desk and said, what she knew it was her duty to confess: "I can't be allowed to read in the seventh reader.  I don't write a bit well, and I never could get the mental number-work right.  I couldn't do ANYthing with seventh-grade arithmetic!"
The teacher looked a little blank and said: "I didn't say anything about your number-work! I don't know anything about it!  You haven't recited yet."
The first day of school continues and the teacher tries to find out what she knows in each area and towards the end of the day Betsy gets very upset and proclaims:
"Why - why," said Elizabeth Ann, "I don't know what I am at all.  If I'm second grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third grade spelling, what grade am I?" 
The teacher laughed at the turn of phrase. "you aren't any grade at all, no matter where you are in school.  You're just yourself, aren't you?  What difference does it make what grade you're in!  And what's the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don't know your multiplication table?" 
The rest of the anecdote is instructive but you'll have to read it for yourself - I am sure you might identify with it!
"OH pshaw!  It's ten minutes past five!  Now my grandmother could have told that within five minutes, just by the place of the shadow [talking about the sundial]. I declare! Sometimes it seems to me that every time a new piece of machinery comes into the door some of our wits fly out at the window! 
And another about family time:
She was very proud to think she could please a grown-up so much as she was evidently pleasing Uncle Henry, but the idea of reading aloud for people to hear, not for a teacher to correct, was unheard-of.
When the girls decide to help out a classmate Cousin Ann has some comments - a little convicting!
"Well," said Cousin Ann, "What has that got to do with 'Lias knowing who did it?"
"Why, he wouldn't know who to be grateful to," cried Betsy.
"Oh," said Cousin Ann, "oh, I see.  You didn't do it to help 'Lias.  You did it to have him grateful to you."
Thoughts on good teaching
. . . and to begin with had gone back, back, back to bedrock, to things Betsy absolutely knew, to the 2x2s and the 3x3s.  And then, very cautiously, a step at a time, they had advanced, stopping short whenever Betsy felt a beginning of that bewildered "guessing" impulse which made her answer wildly at random. . . From that moment her progress had been rapid, one sure fact hooking itself on to another and another one on to that. 
 These are just some of my favorites.  I highly recommend it as a read aloud.  It is part of the Year 2 Ambleside Online curriculum.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this aloud. Interesting to read about the author's background in Montessori.

    1. She actually wrote a book called A Montessori Mother in 1912. I haven't read it but I have seen it at our local university library - that's why her name was familiar to me.

  2. Good memories for me!! I loved that book too and was quite surprised the first time I read it. I had no idea it was so good.

  3. This was a favorite when we did Year 2.

  4. What a nice post! We don't follow Ambleside, but do look at it for book suggestions and this is one I hadn't read yet. You inspired me to both put the ONE copy our massive library has on hold, as well as pull up the text on archive ( ) where it reads like a book, which is fun. I started reading it aloud to my 2nd grade daughter Tuesday and the rest listened in - I'm adding it to my morning time rotation for the term! And get this - I had checked it out once before but never got to reading it, but my 4th grader remembered it and reminded me that I had checked it out sometime last year, and that he had read it and gave me a recap and said he really liked it. Anyhow, thanks for the little tap on the shoulder to read this so far lovely book!

    1. Glad that I could jog your memory. Funny that you had gotten it before and didn't even remember. I have a few books like that myself. Even if you don't follow all of Ambleside I always send friends there for the booklist. Enjoy reading!

  5. I guess I remembered getting it, but just didn't realize that he had picked it up. He's been a voracious reader since he was 6, and often I pick up books at the library to preview or read and don't get to them, and sometimes he does without me knowing it! I guess that's part of a little "strewing" around here. Yes, I look at AO all the time for book suggestions, but our primary source of books/curriculum is Mater Amabilis, a Charlotte Mason-style curriculum designed for Catholics. We use many of the same resources, though more of our books are in print. Glad to have found your blog and discussions. :)