To Sir, with Love

E. R. Braithwaite

To Sir, With Love by [Braithwaite, E. R.]

When E. R. Braithwaite died recently (Dec 16 2016) at the age of 104, I realized that I had never read his famous book. I had seen the Sidney Poitier film, but had not read the book. I purchased a copy from Amazon and began to read.

One thing I don’t remember from the film was how qualified Braithwaite was for a job in science. He had a Ph.D. in physics, as well as extensive experience. His work in his field was interrupted by the war, where he served honorable as an officer in the R.A.F. He expected to obtain a job shortly after mustering out. Instead, he found the doors shut in his face because of racial prejudice. At last, desperate for a job, he took a position as a teacher in a school desperate for teachers.

He found the attitude and lack of discipline on the part of the students in the East End school shocking. Slowly, using a combination of respect and discipline, and demanding the same from the students, he transformed a bunch of rowdies into a classroom of respectful students, ready to learn.

The book is as much about race relationships as it is about education. Carefully negotiating the minefield of prejudice, his own anger, and closed doors, takes up a large portion of the book. Braithwaite describes the barriers to ordinary transactions such as trying to find an apartment, walking out with his white girlfriend, and ordinary encounters with the general public.

The interactions with the students are entertaining, but it is his viewpoint on race relations that make the deepest impression.


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