Miss Nelson is Missing!

November 1, 2018
Subheader: 

Miss Nelson is too feminine to be assertive.

Review: 

There's some kids in school. It's unclear how old they are because of the stylized art. They could be anywhere between five and fourteen, for all I can tell. But their class has "story hour", so they're probably younger, like first or second grade (in 1977 you didn't really assign homework to kindergartners). The children in the class are acting up. They're throwing paper planes and such, and the teacher, the titular Miss Nelson, can't get them to calm down by being nice to them, so she's frustrated. The next day they have a new teacher named Miss Viola Swamp. She's ugly (as opposed to the pretty Miss Nelson) and clearly mean. She makes them actually do what they're supposed to be doing! And doesn't even allow them to have a story hour! She's their substitute teacher for several days. They go to the police trying to find Miss Nelson because they miss her, and the police are not helpful. The kids go to Miss Nelson's house, but nobody is home, and Miss Viola Swamp is walking by, so they run away.

They're sad, because they figure Miss Nelson's never coming back, and then Miss Nelson comes back. They say, 'Where were you?' and she says, 'That's my little secret.' She notices that during story hour, no one is "rude or silly." She asks them what caused the change, and they say, 'That's our little secret.' And at the end, she goes home, and it's made pretty clear that Miss Viola Swamp was actually Miss Nelson in disguise.

Basically what it boils down to is, children don't listen to nice people. You have to threaten them in order to make them behave. Which is ridiculous. I mean, clearly you have to give them consequences for bad decisions. On the other hand, Miss Swamp doesn't seem to be that mean. She raps the desk with a ruler. She snaps at the kids. "They could see that Miss Swamp was a real witch.... She meant business. Right away, she put them to work. And she loaded them down with homework." She tells them, "Keep your mouths shut," "Sit perfectly still," and, "If you misbehave, you'll be sorry." That's it. That's like the only difference between the teachers. They just don't like that she gives them a lot of homework. She's strict, I'll give her that, but the children should be sitting still and being quiet in class, and not misbehaving. The kids basically assume that she's a horrible person because of her looks. And apparently only mean people make you learn things.

In the beginning, when the children are playing with spitballs and paper planes, giggling, squirming, making faces and being rude, and refusing to do their lessons, the only thing Miss Nelson does is say in a "sweet voice", "Now settle down." When her class is acting up, she just gives up and pretends to be some kind of nasty individual who just doesn't respect her students. Of course, they've already shown that they're not currently worthy of respect.

It took me a few minutes to realize that, really, this book is sexist. Viola Swamp, the assertive one, is portrayed as expressly ugly, a non-feminine trait. She's a "witch." She "mean[s] business." Miss Nelson, her alter ego, is pretty, blonde, passive, and talks in a "sweet voice." Miss Swamp is described as "wicked," when she's really just assertive, bordering on aggressive. You don't call an assertive male teacher a "wicked" "witch." But the reality is that Miss Nelson isn't capable of becoming more assertive until she also becomes less feminine. When a woman is assertive, they are described in disparaging terms, and people only like them if they're "nice" and "sweet."

What it boils down to is, don't have respect for people who treat you kindly. The only two opinions the children can have for the teacher are disrespect, or fear. Really, the best relationship between an adult and a child is for them to have mutual respect and understanding of the other's position. It's obviously a lot harder for children to understand the position of the adult. A really great book that deals with this in a teacher-student context is "My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)" by Peter Brown. It starts out with the child being a troublemaker, but he comes to act differently not by the teacher being a complete jerk to him, but by realizing that his teacher is another human being worthy of respect, and trying to get him to behave in order to teach the class, not because she's a terrible person. Children need to have reasonable consequences to their misbehavior, otherwise they don't understand why they shouldn't do things. In "Miss Nelson is Missing", the consequences don't make any sense, and the children are only punished by seeing how "it could be worse". Knowing that others have it harder doesn't make you really respect what you have.

Teaching is a difficult job, but it's important that children learn at school. There are so many things that school teaches that improve people's lives and interaction with society. And this book sends the message that nice, respectful, and feminine, are not good ways to get people to do what is helpful for them.

Message: 

To get people to listen to you, you have to be nasty and threatening.

Author
Illustrator
Awards
Publication Year
  • 1977
Age Range
Age Range: 
4-7
Number of Pages
Number of Pages: 
29
Number of Words on Typical Page
Number of Words: 
30

Comments

sos

this book is super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super super duper poopy head book

Um...

...okay...

Argument from Nostalgia
I loved this book and series

I loved this book and series growing up. I also read it to my class and have even thought of dressing up as Viola Swamp for Halloween. I'm no means feminine but I do talk sweetly to the kids as well as become strict and assertive especially when they know they're doing something they're not supposed to. I get told I'm mean and that they hate me when I get on to them but I don't think this book is sexist at all. I don't think it shows you have to be one or the other but teaches that there should be a balance in how the teacher is. You can be sweet but sometimes it's necessary to be "mean". I think this book also teaches kids that their behavior will affect how the teacher is at that moment and teaches that you should respect all teachers no matter what.

...

what

Argument from Nostalgia
A former teacher and elementary school counselor now retired

I love this book.
It is a timeless message and the illustrations are superb,
I bought it for my Grandaughter but until
I give it to her,I enjoy reading it myself.

Troll
Argument from Nostalgia
Really?? Come on. Dramatic

Really?? Come on. Dramatic much? This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid, and I just bought it for my son. Get over yourself....it’s a great lesson teaching book for kids.

Great Argument
This Book is Legit Good Advice

I love this book, and it's message to me as a kid was that it is hard to be a teacher, even a beloved one. This book gave me compassion and understanding that adults struggle with communication, too.
Then, I became a teacher, and this book saved me. I remembered it's message, and I developed a teaching style of being tough with the rules during the first few weeks of class. Once the students understood that I was solid and not be tested, then I could let down my guard and lighten up with them.

Great point.

That's a really good point, and a great way of looking at this book.

Troll
Argument from Nostalgia
My fave book as a kid

This review is absurd and this book was so good. My favorite one to read growing up!!! I agree with the above comment by Jenna where it taught me to sympathize with teachers who weren’t assertive and nicer. I guess everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint even if it’s far fetched and grasping at straws lol.

Just so you know

It is possible to, as Jenna did above, disagree with someone without insulting their point of view.

Hmmm

It seems a bit rude to me to label people's arguments as "argument from nostalgia." It is obviously a way to invalidate their viewpoint which is synonymous with insulting it. You can argue that the label is true, but something doesn't have to be false in order to be disrespectful.
It also seems to me that people are just searching for ways to get insulted and outraged nowadays. The "arguments from nostalgia" may actually be the strongest ones out there - they show that people have read this book many times and have NEVER caught a glimpse of how this book could be sexist, and for the women readers, have never felt insulted by it! We are in a culture where people will misconstrue whatever they get their hands on to victimize themselves.

I have no obligation to be respectful

"Argument from nostalgia" is an objective description, just like "argument from popularity." Just as is it not a valid argument to say, "I asked 100 people and they all said the moon is made of green cheese, therefore it is true," it is an invalid argument to say, "When I was a child, I believed the moon was made of green cheese, and it was a wonderful feeling, so stop telling people it's not made of green cheese." If I say "this is sexist", I'm definitely open to you telling me, "Hey, you're overlooking this particular aspect of the book," as Jenna did. And maybe those other aspects can overcome the sexism in the book. Maybe not. I'm sure as a child I wouldn't have thought this book was sexist. But as a child, I could have read a hypothetical blatantly sexist book, and I probably wouldn't have noticed. That just means I hadn't been exposed to the idea that it was wrong, not that said hypothetical book wasn't sexist.

If someone goes on my blog and disagrees with me, and their only argument for their side is, "I loved this when I was a kid," they are going to get this tag. Because that's an opinion, not an argument. They're perfectly welcome to have that opinion. I made it into a label because I'm getting tired of explaining this whole argument to everybody who comes along saying "I liked this book when I was eight, therefore it can't be bad."

Also, it seems ironic that you claim that I'm insulting people and being disrespectful, and then immediately say that "people are just searching for ways to get insulted and outraged". Perhaps you're misconstruing my words, and "victimizing" these other posters?

Hateful Response to Valid Comments

Instead of welcoming open discussion and varying perspectives, you invalidate other viewpoints by labeling them "troll" and "argument from nostalgia" for the simple reason that they like something that you did not like. Extremely ironic that you note to Michelle above that it is possible to disagree with someone without insulting their point of view, but the moment APP expressed a contrary opinion to yours, you responded that you have no obligation to be respectful (apart from normal human decency, I imagine). You purport to appreciate diverse and varied perspectives throughout your reviews, but in reality immediately shut down perspectives other than your own.

Thanks

I appreciate that you attribute "normal human decency" to me. One thing I do on my blog that many others don't is refrain from moderating my comments. I don't delete comments that disagree with me. I have, on extremely rare occasions, deleted comments consisting entirely of people calling me hateful names and wishing terrible things would happen to me.

Another thing I do that not all bloggers do is respond to most of my comments, whether they disagree with me or not. I have within the past year added 4 tags: "Great Argument", where I feel a person put forth an argument that I did not make and was well stated. I have given this to several people who have made arguments that disagree with me. "Thanks for the Support" is a tag I use when I have nothing to say to someone who agrees with me. I am assuming nobody finds those tags to be disrespectful.

"Argument from Nostalgia" is the most recent tag I created, which I give to those whose only argument boils down to "I have fond memories of this book." In that case, nothing is up for debate. I cannot disagree with that, since it is their memory and their opinion. Humans are wired so that our fond memories are extremely difficult to give up. On the other hand, I do not share their memory, so it will convince me of nothing. So we are at a stalemate and no discussion is possible.

"Troll" is a tag which I give to comments that I perceive to be another type of comment I cannot usefully respond to: those where anything I say will come across badly, regardless of how well thought out it is. These comments often call me names or tell me my site is, in general, bad. Or they accuse me of being too quick to find problems with books, and talk about the world today being more easily offended than it used to be.

There is nothing I can say to these last two types of commenters that will change their mind, and the latter type refuses to respect me, so I feel no obligation to respect them. As I am human and cannot read minds, sometimes I may flag a comment as "Troll" when it is actually not. In that case, I invite the original poster to respond in a respectful manner, in effect displaying evidence that they are not, in fact, a troll.

I can spend hours attempting to craft a thoughtful or perhaps witty reply to either of the last two types of comments, and it will be highly probable that the original commenter will never return to my site or see my response. Or if they do, they can just spend a few seconds typing insults back to me in reply. It is a losing proposition for me. Thus, the tags. These display to other readers of the blog, "Yes, I saw this comment. Here is my opinion of it. See, I am interacting with this site. There is a real actual human being here, who is thinking about what you are saying. Someone who has feelings." Sometimes I may attempt a response anyway, but I give the tags out to be consistent.

First of all, I completely

First of all, I completely disagree with the assessment that “Miss Nelson is Missing” is sexist. The moral of the story is that nice people are often taken advantage of while mean people are often listened to, albeit begrudgingly, and realizing this can help us make sure we are not inadvertently mistreating or not appreciating the nice people in our lives. Miss Viola Swamp is not portrayed as masculine, so it’s hard for me to understand the viewpoint that she is supposed to be a foil for Miss Nelson’s femininity. Furthermore, both in the book and the sequel, the male characters (the detective and the principal) are portrayed as big morons, so it seems highly unlikely that the book is attempting to portray women in a more derogatory manner than men. It also seems to me that, according to your interpretation, the lesson would be that sometimes, women need to be more assertive in order to receive the respect that they deserve, which I would consider feminist rather than sexist. Second of all, “Argument from Nostalgia” is NOT an objective description when it’s given to responders who made valid arguments that you ignored. For example, the comment from “a teacher” clearly explains that she disagrees with your assessment that the book’s lesson is that “To get people to listen to you, you have to be nasty and threatening.” She explains that, in her opinion, the lesson is that a teacher needs to have a balance between being kind and being a disciplinarian, as well as a lesson to students that their behavior will affect the way their teacher treats them and that you should have respect for all. None of those were arguments from nostalgia, and did not need to be disregarded as such. The same is true for Michelle, who literally agreed with Jenna, who you said had a good argument. Both of these were tagged "Argument from Nostalgia" and the valid points that they made were ignored. Your response to APP seems to imply that “being nostalgic automatically invalidates all of your other arguments,” which does not seem fair. This is especially true in the case of whether or not "Miss Nelson is Missing" is sexist, because being able to say “I read this story as a child and as an adult, and not only did it NOT make me think less of women in any capacity, or think less of myself as a woman, it actually gave me a greater appreciation for my female teachers who were able to maintain order in the classroom without being overly strict, and taught me that as a woman, it can be necessary to be more assertive” is a very compelling argument against it being inherently sexist and teaching anti-feminist lessons. You also seemed to be under the impression that Miss Viola Swamp was actually a fine and effective educator whose only “flaw” was being assertive. Telling young children things like “if you misbehave, you’ll be sorry” is not “being assertive,” it’s called threatening young children. If a male teacher was doing that, it would also be threatening young children. As I child, I was part of a class full of troublemakers. We had female teachers who were excellent, and female teachers who were terrible. We also had male teacher who were excellent and male teachers who were terrible (which, by the way, is how the male principal is portrayed in the sequel when he tries to teach, a further illustration that this book is not trying to promote the idea that men are more effective educators). And "Miss Nelson is Missing" was a reminder for us that, when it came to our teachers who were nice, we should give them the respect they deserve rather than the respect they demand. Finally, on the topic of irony, it seems ironic to me that your response to Michelle was that “it is possible to disagree with someone without insulting their point of view” and you then proceeded to respond to APP “I have no obligation to be respectful.” It also seems ironic to me that you seem frustrated that people are disregarding parts of what you wrote, but you said that “their only argument for their side is, I loved this when I was a kid," which was NOT their only argument for their side, as I pointed out above, and you disregarded the other parts of their argument. Perhaps the one misconstruing the words of others in this case is not APP... And while I agree with you that censoring your website by callously deleting the comments of anyone who disagreed with you would be worse than insulting them or rejecting their argument without actually considering it, I don't think that makes the latter options admirable things to do. They may be the better of two evils, but actually listening to the opinions and arguments of those with different viewpoints than you and responding to the argument itself rather than one component of it that you feel is invalid would be a more mature and open-minded response than either of those options.