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To Sir with Love by E. R. Braithwaite

To Sir with Love (1959)

by E. R. Braithwaite

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Fascinating look at post WWII east end life from the POV of a black teacher. I have to go and find the movie now - I wonder if it is a movie that Hollywood would make now or if it would be too much for them? ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite has been recently re-released by Open Road Media and is highly recommended for the intelligent narrative as well as the historical perspective on racism.

Originally written in 1959 and set in the post WWII tough East End of London, To Sir, With Love is a nonfiction account of a well-educated 28 year old man from Guyana who stumbles upon his teaching career by accident when he cannot find another job due to his skin color. Braithwaite accepts the teaching position, but makes it clear that he "did not become a teacher out of any sense of vocation; mine was no considered decision in the interests of youthful humanity or the spread of planned education. It was a decision forced on me by the very urgent need to eat; it was a decision brought about by a chain of unhappy experiences which began about a week after my demobilization from the Royal Air Force in 1945." (Location 448)

After being jobless for 18 months, "Disillusionment had given place to a deepening, poisoning hatred; slowly but surely I was hating these people who could so casually, so unfeelingly deny me the right to earn a living. I was considered too well educated, too good for the lowly jobs, and too black for anything better."(Location 607)

He finds himself at Greenslade Secondary School in charge of 40 students. His initial encounter with the students is not what he expected: "I felt shocked by the encounter. My vision of teaching in a school was one of straight rows of desks, and neat, well-mannered, obedient children. The room I had just left seemed like a menagerie.... Was it the accepted thing here? Would I have to accept it too? "(Location 161)

The majority of the children could be generally classified as difficult with a disregard for authority. They are poorly fed, clothed and housed. They face a multitude of difficulties in an environment that is lacking in every way, however, as Braithwaite points out, they are, as a majority, white. He has faced numerous difficulties and hurdles based on his skin color. Certainly these children can be taught to overcome their limitations.

Braithwaite is very blunt and, well, insulting, in some of his descriptions and this is especially noticeable at the beginning of the book. For all his difficulties endured due to racism, clearly sexism was also a prevalent part of the times. I had to take into consideration the time in which it was originally written and place it in a historical context.

If you have seen the movie, it is impossible to read the book To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite without picturing Sidney Poitier and hearing the song sung by Lulu.
While there are many similarities, there are many differences too. The book is set in the late 1940s while the movie, released in 1967, changed the setting to the 60's. The book also deals openly with questions of race and the overt prejudice Braithwaite felt in Great Britain. The timeline for some events in the book is changed around for the movie. In comparison to the sombrer tone of the book, the movie feels light-hearted.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road Media via Netgalley for review purposes. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
This book is wonderful! I didn't realize that it is non-fiction, which makes it even better! The author tells the story of his beginnings as a teacher in London and the racial prejudice that he faced during that era (the book was written in 1959). He tells of his trials and accomplishments with the students, and of his relationship with a white woman/fellow teacher. This book was much more that I expected -- I highly recommend it!! ( )
  TerriS | Jan 17, 2016 |
The Title Song by Lulu is one of my all time pop favorites, along with A Day in the Life, How Soon is Now? and Good Vibrations. I have not seen the movie adaptation. The book was vastly different from what I expected. It originally thought it was a fictional story. It is actually based on Ricky Braithwaite's experience teaching in an east end London school utilizing new teaching methods (no physical punishment, group discussions and common lunch meals). Not the best writing, but he captures dialogue well and tries to be sensitive to what he felt emotionally which in the 1950's was not to be taken for granted. He cites being a RAF veteran pilot but never says what he did other than "operations". Since he could not get a postwar job in his field of engineering, he was forced to apply for a teaching assignment. He begins to see in these 1950's outsider high school students a little of himself. Neither he nor they are fit into society as the prime elements for success. Braithwaite's students go on to vocational schools or military service. This is a slanted view from Braithwaite himself, as he reveals his own prejudices about others throughout the book in an offhand manner. He once calls girls in the class 'sluts' and gets into a boxing glove match with a student and knocks the wind out of the boy with a shot to the solar plexus. He's not the sharpest teacher. He spends much time brooding over the polite nature of English racial prejudice, as he saw it revealed slowly, compared to the more overt prejudice he saw in the American south. The southern Negroes of America would push back or at least were beginning to. There is a love story to be found in here but with another teacher who also saw the need to move slowly with regard to mixed race marriages in English society. I found this to be more about racial identity confusion or culture shock than about inspirational student mentoring. Still worth reading while displaying how far education has moved on from the 50's.
  sacredheart25 | Oct 15, 2015 |
I found this book on my dad's shelves back when I just began my freshman year in university. Really really liked the story of a highly educated black man, with highly educated parents in that era, an ex-pilot fresh out of work after the WWII, finding his place as a high school teacher of adolescent kids in a poor British neighborhood. It was practical and inspiring. The movie adaptation was good as well, but not exactly like the book. Sadly the original copy of the book was lost when my father lent it to one of his colleagues. ( )
  PsYcHe_Sufi | Jul 12, 2015 |
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blurb: He shamed then, wrestled with them, enlightened them, and ultimately learned to love then. Mr. Braithwaite, the new teacher, had first to fight the class bully. The he taught defiant, hard bitten delinquents to call him ‘Sir’, and to address the girls who had grown up beside them in the gutter as ‘Miss’. He taught them to wash their faces and to read Shakespeare. When he took all forty six to museums and to the opera, riots were predicted. But instead of catastrophe, a miracle happened. A dedicated teacher had turned hate into love, teenage rebelliousness into self respect, contempt into consideration for others. A man’s own integrity - his concern and love for other - had won through.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0515105198, Mass Market Paperback)

The author's experiences as a teacher in the slums of London.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:05 -0400)

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The author's experiences as a teacher in the slums of London.

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