Saturday, August 11, 2007

To Sir, with Love by E. R.Braithwaite

Title: To Sir, with Love
Author: E. R.Braithwaite
First publisher: 1959

I first read this book when I was in high school. I re-read it recently and liked it just as much if not more.

To Sir, with Love is an incredibly inspirational story. E. R. Braithwaite, the author of this memoir, encapsulates the shame and hatred of prejudices and racism. The journey begins in the East End of London, during the 1940's. Mr. Braithwaite teaches at Greenslade Secondary School, which is surrounded by poor neighbourhoods crammed with social vermin. Rick Braithwaite is a young black man, born in South America, who just got out of the Air Force. Now in Britain, Braithwaite is looking for a career, mainly to pay for food, but things do not work out as planned. He comes to know the malady of prejudice very well, as he is turned down from job after job. Braithwaite describes feeling "caught like an insect in the tweezers grip of prejudice." Teaching becomes the therapy to set him free.

When Mr. Braithwaite took the job as a teacher, he did not expect his students to be barbaric savages. It is uphill all the way for Braithwaite as he counters the cynicism of his impressionable students and, now and then, that of his colleagues also. The difficulties in he faces in getting students to focus on aspirations in the future than the upcoming weekend are painfully true. The need for inventive and genuine approaches to these educational challenges is abundantly clear. Gradually, he wins over the minds of his students as he tries to wipe clean their minds of prejudices (racial or otherwise). With hard work and dedication, he turned this class of delinquents into a class of young men and women with class.

In the beginning, he described that he wanted this job, "but it would be a job, not a labour of love." Then, after spending time with the students, Mr. Braithwaite began "learning from them as well as teaching them." The class may have problems in their home lives, but when they enter the classroom, Mr. Braithwaite joins them on a journey to adulthood. The students ask many questions, which allow them to acquire the knowledge they deserve. From time to time, the question touch upon people of different races, and Mr. Braithwaite gives mature answers, and speaks to them as adults. Braithwaite's theory is to treat his students older than they are so they will behave more responsible. With a teacher who respects his students, they, in return, accept him and honour him with the courtesy of "Sir".

The whole time, Mr. Braithwaite realizes that it is not his skin colour that is holding him back, but his attitude. He reflects that, "At first it was terrible, but gradually I'm learning what it means to live with dignity inside my black skin."

To Sir, with Love is definitely a book I recommend to be read at least once, by all of us. Anyone who reads this story will walk away with a broader view on life and how to live it. The quotes Braithwaite uses will really makes one think, and his words stay engraved in mind. The most memorable and thought-provoking concept E. R. Braithwaite wrote was "I realized at that moment that I was British, but evidently not a Briton, that fine differentiation was now very important". It is a must-read book for any teacher worth her/his classroom.