A Class Undivided

Review of To Sir, With Love; E.R.Braithwaite; Jove books; Rs 149; pp189

– Sharon Pradeeptha

Life’s a battlefield. You need to be a fighter to live in it, not exist and, mark you, live….

After his demobilisation from the Royal Air Force in 1945, E.R. Braithwaite was turned down from the numerous job opportunities that he applied for, not because he was incapable but because of racial discrimination which existed so strongly in the community.

Heartbroken and unable to drag on with life, he applied to the Ministry of Education as a teacher. In spite of having no previous experience as a teacher, Braithwaite joined the Green Slade Secondary School in East London known for its shady slums and dark alleys. On his arrival, he was appointed as a home room teacher for Mr. Hackman’s class, a secondary classroom – one that was dreaded by the whole school for their discourteous, callous, hostile and firm resistance towards their teachers and fellow comrades.

He was shocked at the students’ behaviour but coped with it with unwavering determination to lead them in the right way. He didn’t treat them as small kids but respected them as vigorous personalities in a relentless search for self expression. In spite of their defiant nature to turn a deaf ear to him, Braithwaite patiently taught them to respect and address each other in an orderly fashion, as they would be expected to express these courtesies as part of their jobs in the future. Along with the regular lessons, he also advised them on personal hygiene, discipline and to be an example for their juniors who ape them in every way.

The roots of the racial discrimination seeped into his classroom, too. The students, initially, were rough and snubbed him. But gradually they heeded his comments, which brought a great change in their behaviour – from teenage rebels to self respecting and considerate adults. Though he was harsh with them at times, he loved them as his own children and put up with their tantrums for their own welfare. Through their changed behaviour, the students’ hidden talents became evident to Braithwaite, and he helped them in shaping their abilities. Many of his colleagues who tried to discourage him from changing the class found themselves drawn to the distinct change in the once hard-bitten morons.

E.R. Braithwaite, through his own example, proved that colour was only skin-deep and should not be a basis for discrimination. He instilled in his students and colleagues that the integrity and dignity of an individual should be respected and not underestimated.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (3 votes cast)
A Class Undivided, 9.7 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 12th, 2010 at 5:50 pm and is filed under Autobiography, Children's Classic, Non-Fiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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