Chapters 13 and 14

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 13

The students' Weekly Reviews are full of commentary on their trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Headmaster Florian reads their writing and is so impressed with the outcome that he has volunteered to help with any other ventures. It has been two months since Braithwaite began teaching, and each day the lessons are becoming more interesting. There is so much his students do not know that Braithwaite has plenty of material to cover before the school year is over. The lessons are informal and involve much class discussion.

A lesson with an unused skeleton from the Science Room reveals that his students know more than perhaps they should about reproduction and the human body. During a geography lesson, students wonder if he is from Africa. He tries to explain that he was born in British Guiana, but they understand little about Colonial territories, protectorates, and dependencies. They know the products produced in these places, but they have little interest in the people who produce them and care even less about their political struggles or their quest for economic improvement.

Even his colleagues understand little about Black cultures, assuming all Black people are caricatures (depicted in film) of indolence and shiftlessness, living in mud huts or shanties, smiling, singing, and dancing to face all their problems in life. Both students and teachers learned such stereotypes from their textbooks. When Braithwaite points to himself as a Black man who is not as depicted, they simply say he is different from the rest. Even still, he is making progress, and it is rewarding to help his eager students learn.

One evening on his way home, Braithwaite sees the old tobacconist who beckons him into the shop. He introduces Braithwaite to his mother as the new teacher at Greenslade School. She embraces him and gives him the address of a room she thinks might be good enough for him. He goes immediately, as the unreliability of the train has become a bit of a problem. The smiling woman on the other side of the door immediately loses her smile when she sees him. Clearly it is his color that causes her change of demeanor, but before she can close the door on him, Barbara Pegg, one of his students, peers from behind the door and tells her mother Braithwaite is her teacher. It changes nothing, however, and he determines to quit looking for an apartment. Barbara is embarrassed long after the incident.

Braithwaite and Gillian begin dating, and they enjoy one another’s company at the theater, ballet, films, and dinner. Her parents are rich and successful, and she quit her more lucrative job to do something more satisfying. She has her own apartment in Chelsea.

After school one evening, Barbara’s mother comes to offer him the apartment, as Barbara is upset with her for denying him the room. She has not changed her feelings, but she wants her daughter to be happy. Braithwaite assures the woman he will tell Barbara he changed his mind and decided not to take the apartment. Mrs. Pegg is relieved. Braithwaite explains to the girl that he has decided to stay where he is, but if he ever changes his mind, he will contact her first. She is relieved, and Braithwaite feels that he has made a small change in at least one student’s attitude about race and prejudice.

Chapter 14

Braithwaite spends his August break reading or attending various shows and exhibitions. Gillian is vacationing with her mother but sends him several letters. They are anxious to see one another again. When classes resume, many of his students are not there. They are on a “working holiday” in the country, working in the hop-fields in Kent. The class is lacking its usual energy. Pamela in particular seems to be disinterested, perhaps because her friend Barbara is not in class yet.

Soon everyone returns and “much of the old spirit was soon re-established,” just as Braithwaite had hoped. Students chatter about the fun they had while away and their plans to spend the money they earned. Despite the enthusiasm of the group, Pamela remains aloof and quiet. During recess breaks, she tidies the classroom and quietly does small things, unasked, for her teacher. All students gather around him regularly, asking more about him and telling him more about their families. Many mornings he finds a treat on his desk from some occasion the night before, and during the break he eats it with his tea as the student tells him all about the wedding or special event which happened the night before. Braithwaite is part of their lives, and they want to share everything with “Sir.”

Always at the edge of the crowd is Pamela, who remains observant but silent. She seems to have become more womanly, her hair now in an attractive style rather than a schoolgirl’s ponytail. Braithwaite senses he could help her if she would confide in him, but she does not. He plans to wait until she chooses to share her problem with him. One day the boys bring Braithwaite a football to fill with air and to lace, and one of the steel laces slips and pokes his finger. When he bleeds a bit, one of the boys jokingly shows surprise that his blood is red. Pamela, hovering near the group as usual, attacks the offender for his offensive remark.

The attack is vicious and aimed at all of them. She says they are stupid for always asking questions that show their ignorance, like whether Braithwaite feels the cold or bathes or gets a haircut. These are idiotic questions about things that do not matter and are insulting to their teacher. The boys are stunned at the vitriol with which she attacks them. They tell her that their teacher does not need her to defend him, but she does not back down from her position. Braithwaite sees that her scathing remarks confound the boys; she is “wonderful, tremendous in her scorn and towering anger.”

As the boys escape the room, Denham is struck by a sudden thought and tells her she is only defending their teacher because she is “stuck on” him. He rushes out of the room before he can see her reaction, but Braithwaite sees Pamela blush deeply as she looks at him and rushes out of the room. He believes that what Denham said is the truth.

Braithwaite sees his students as children and he feels only fatherly affection for them, but he can see that this situation might prove to be a problem for him and his class. He talks to Grace, and she explains that this kind of thing is typical among students of all ages. At Greenslade, male teachers have not been worthy role models and mentors for many years. Braithwaite dresses well and treats his students with courtesy, dignity, and respect; he is someone they can admire and emulate, she tells him. It is not surprising that a young woman would respond in such a way, as he is so different from the other men in her life. She tells him to be “tactful” and Pamela will soon “pull herself together.” Braithwaite appreciates Grace’s counsel.

Pamela’s emotional outburst seems to have released some of her tension, and she is once again joining her classmates in their conversations and activities. Braithwaite notices an occasional worried look on the girl’s face, but he hopes it will soon fade into normalcy. Headmaster Florian joins their class often now, inciting discussion and argument in an attempt to help the students think, reason, and analyze. Their responses are thoughtful and insightful (though not always grammatically correct), a testament to the Old Man’s philosophy of education. These students who could not gain admission into other schools are flourishing here and will be ready to “hold their own” in the adult world very soon.

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Chapters 11 and 12

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Chapters 15 and 16