What are the themes of the novel To Sir, with Love by E. R. Braithwaite? Include critical thinking about these themes.

The main themes of To Sir, with Love are education and racial prejudice. While Braithwaite overcomes the obstacles in his path, a critical reader might view his approach as somewhat egocentric, considering social problems as solved if he is able to stop them from affecting him personally.

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One of the themes of the novel is the power of education. At the run-down East End school where Braithwaite finds a job as a teacher, the dead-end kids have effectively been written off by society. They are required to attend school simply in order to keep them off the...

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One of the themes of the novel is the power of education. At the run-down East End school where Braithwaite finds a job as a teacher, the dead-end kids have effectively been written off by society. They are required to attend school simply in order to keep them off the streets for a few hours each day. The thought of their actually learning anything and going on to do something with their lives simply doesn't spring to mind for those in charge of their education.

Yet thanks to the persistence, care, and concern of Mr. Braithwaite, the children's horizons are considerably broadened, giving them a whole new outlook on life, one that they otherwise would never have gained.

It's no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Braithwaite, the children would've remained stuck in a mindset at once shaped and distorted by petty criminality, racism, lack of ambition, and a marked hostility towards formal learning. The rest of their lives would almost certainly have been spent in poverty, ignorance, and squalor.

Yet such is the power of education, especially as it is wielded by a gifted and persistent teacher, that the lives of the children are enriched and transformed in so many different ways.

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I would argue that the two main themes of the thought-provoking novel To Sir, with Love are the effects of racism and differing approaches to education.

To deal first with the issue of the effects of racism, our protagonist, Ricardo Braithwaite, is a qualified engineer who gained experience at an Aruban oil refinery before emigrating to England. Having served in the Royal Airforce during the war, he is unable to find work after the war due to his skin color. The theme of racism is introduced right at the beginning of the story, when Braithwaite is riding a bus and finds himself the target of prejudice from a fellow passenger. It is thanks to the dire situation he is placed in due to having dark skin that he switches professions and takes a teaching job. Despite having fought for his new country during the war, he is viewed not as a hero but as an inferior citizen.

Braithwaite’s teaching job at Greenslade School in London’s East End, where he is teaching illiterate, jaded, and disinterested students, does not start out smoothly. The need for a different approach to education is highlighted by the fact that Braithwaite is shown no respect. Bad language is regularly used in his classroom, and his classes are regularly disrupted. The disrespect reaches a crescendo when a sanitary pad is burned in his classroom.

This incident is a turning point, after which Braithwaite rethinks his teaching methods and adopts a far more hands-on approach. He begins to demand respect by showing his pupils respect, and he takes them on field trips to theaters and museums in order to bring the material he is attempting to teach them to life. The theme of differing teaching methods is highlighted by the students’ vastly different reactions to traditional teaching methods and Braithwaite’s unconventional method.

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The principal themes of To Sir, with Love are racial prejudice, specifically the prejudice encountered by the author in Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War, and education, particularly the ways in which teachers can motivate students to learn.

Braithwaite only becomes a teacher because he is unable to find a job in engineering, despite being well-qualified. He ascribes this to racial prejudice, a theme which recurs throughout the novel, most notably when he begins dating a white teacher named Gillian, whose parents object to a mixed-race marriage. One criticism that can be made of Braithwaite's attitudes is that he has a tendency to fight racial prejudice with class prejudice. His argument against those who treat him unfairly is that he is a highly-qualified, well-educated, civilized person, culturally superior to the white people around him. This suggests that he thinks prejudice against people who are less educated and civilized would be acceptable.

Braithwaite's approach to education is initially strict, but he finds that his students are more willing to accept him when he gives them more agency in deciding the topics they want to study. While, by his own account, he achieves a good rapport with his students, the reader might also find Braithwaite's view of himself as a teacher somewhat egotistical. He measures his success by how much his students like him rather than by any tougher standards of academic success on their part.

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In the novel “To Sir, with Love,” by E. R. Braithwaite (Edward Ricardo) there are several themes which interweave within the story.  One of the main themes I prejudice in this post war England setting.  Braithwaite is a college graduate and an ex military man.  His desire is to work as an engineer, but there isn’t anyone that will hire him to supervise a job because he is black.  The idea of prejudice is not new to any black man alive but what strengthens this theme is that Braithwaite also is guilty of reverse prejudice toward some of his students.   Another important theme in this novel is the theme of human relations and the always complicated teacher-student relations.  As a teacher myself I can identify with the daily struggle of trying to meet the student’s needs, but at the same time, not crossing the line between the student- teacher relationships.  The setting is London in 1947 and the country is still recovering from the war.  Braithwaite’s 8 month autobiographical novel is very relevant and still makes the reader look within to examine where he/she stands on these themes. 

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