To Sir, with Love has aged gracefully and deserves its continuing readership among young adults. Although it was written for a general adult audience, young readers will find the book’s treatment of many topics to be engaging and instructive: human relations, prejudice and discrimination, the problems of growing up and learning how to find useful work and make a living, educational institutions, economic inequities, and teacher-student relations. Although some questions might be raised about Braithwaite’s accuracy in reporting past events and reconstructing conversations, his writing skill produces a unified, accessible work that clearly depicts postwar London and some quite likable teachers and students.
Perhaps more important, the book presents an engaging self-portrait of a strong teacher, an educator who is of interest to young adults because they can identify with his problems and successes, his early insecurities and growing confidence in his teaching, and his initial rebuffs and later total acceptance by the community. Braithwaite’s intelligence, sensitivity, interpersonal skills, high expectations of his students, and ability to motivate them are apparent throughout the book.
The racial prejudice that Braithwaite encountered in post-World War II England played a major role in his decision to enter teaching. Discrimination against him did not end, however, when he accepted the teaching position. In the early months at Greenslade, for example, he was refused a room that he wanted to rent when the woman who had advertised the room saw his skin color. The white, working-class neighborhood had abundant biases, which are dealt with openly and honestly in the book.
Consequently, it is ironic that, in the light of the strong theme of prejudice, Braithwaite is guilty of stereotyping his young female characters, just as prospective employers stereotyped him when they subjected him to numerous rebuffs under the assumption that a black man could not supervise white English subordinates. Young adult readers may also note that while Braithwaite allows other characters to talk about him in terms of glowing praise, he does not adequately characterize the other faculty members at Greenslade Secondary School but rather presents stock, one-dimensional “types” of teachers. His tendency to sing his own praises and his stereotypical depictions of other people raise some questions concerning the extent to which he has fictionalized the events of the book. The basic ideas, however—the importance of interpersonal relations in teaching and learning, the value of self-respect and integrity, and the need for interracial harmony in the world—are timeless and handled skillfully in the book.
Minor questions of accuracy and questionable decisions regarding tone, therefore, do not diminish either the drama of the work or its value for young adult readers. The book is warm, readable, and teachable. Its themes are universal and appropriate for young people.