Guest post by Annika
Laura thought that Nellie Oleson looked disappointed when she and Carrie came into the schoolhouse the next morning. Nellie might have expected that they would not come back to school.
“You wouldn’t let her meanness keep you away from school, would you Laura?” Ida said.
“I wouldn’t let anything keep me from getting an education,” Laura replied.
“Oh, I’m glad you’ve come back!” Mary Power said, and Ida gave Laura’s arm a warm little squeeze.
This is a chapter in which Laura Learns A Lesson, but although it is a bit heavy-handed (beginning with the opening quote above and going pretty much straight into a bible reference) it also takes its time and is a good lesson.
Angry at Miss Wilder’s unfairness, Laura stands by while the other students misbehave, focusing on her own studies at first but eventually letting those slide as well. The little boys make trouble: Charley sits on a pin and is made to stand in the corner; Clarence runs up the aisle on all fours, and Laura is reprimanded for smiling at him. Worried, she and Carrie tell Pa that the school is in disorder, and he tells them to behave themselves.
Nellie tells the other girls that Miss Wilder’s name is Eliza Jane. They don’t understand why she hates it, and Nellie explains that she once got lice and her schoolmates called her “Lazy, Lousy, Lizy Jane.” The other girls agree that Nellie is two-faced, and they won’t share their secrets with her.
Eventually, unable to ignore the chaos in the classroom, the big girls get in on the fun. Ida draws a funny caricature of Miss Wilder and writes a rhyming verse to go with it. The verse needs work, and Mary Power gives the slate over to Laura to improve. She writes:
Going to school is lots of fun,
From laughing we have gained a ton,
We laugh until we have a pain,
At Lazy, Lousy, Lizy Jane.
(Which, if you ask me, is still not very good.)
The little boys get hold of it, memorize the rhyme, and begin to chant it. Ida’s slate has been wiped clean, and the big girls agree never to tell who wrote it—though Laura, always a good girl (as good as Mary, even if she doesn’t believe it) says she will tell Pa or Ma if they ask her outright. Laura wrestles with guilt, both about the verse and about the chaos in school, for which she blames herself. She wishes she could come clean to Pa, but she is so angry at Miss Wilder that she can’t bring herself to.
Finally, Pa and the other members of the school board visit the school. The class is so unruly that their knock at the outer door cannot be heard. Miss Wilder immediately tells the board that Laura Ingalls is the primary troublemaker, bragging that she runs the school because Pa is on the school board. Pa shakes his head at Laura when she raises her hand to respond, and tells the students and Miss Wilder that the school board stands with the teacher. “We want a good school, and we are going to have it.” All of the students are quiet after their visit, and at home Laura is quiet until Pa speaks to her.
Much to her surprise, he does not ask if it’s true that Laura said she thinks she can run the school, but instead asks what Laura might have said that made her think that. Instead of defending herself, Laura has to think hard, and realizes that Nellie must have misrepresented something Laura said to her in a fight. She recounts the argument in which she called Nellie a “country girl.”
Ma is distressed that Laura is so unforgiving of Nellie, years after Nellie was so mean in Plum Creek. She asks for Laura’s autograph album and writes:
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
The chapter ends there. As I said, Laura Learns A Lesson! I appreciate this chapter not just for the chance to see kids acting like kids (the Ingalls girls are all SO GOOD) but also because Laura’s flaws are right out there, making her seem so very real. The “Little House” Laura may be fiction, but she’s about as real as fiction gets.