"The biggest problem with American education is we don't have nearly enough Mr. Barlow's". --Steve Kroft, "60 Minutes"
"A fascinating, well-researched, and insightful exploration of a brilliant but tortured soul. I couldn't put it down."
"I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is fabulous...many of the stories had me in stitches"
"Meyers goes beyond his subject's public persona to create a compelling portrait of this unusual man".
"Sincerity is the reason for the book. It's the strength of this project, and its glory --- this is a labor of love that was worth undertaking"
I probably read more books than some people have hot meals. Most are well-crafted, no author with an ounce of sense would send me a book that is not. Very occasionally, though, I get something that is truly outstanding. "Teacher Of The Year" is in that class. Even though the year is still young, I just know that this book is going to make my annual top 10 list.
Who was Edwin Barlow? That's a great question. To many people he is a complete unknown, to those that knew this enigmatic character he was either your mentor, or tyrant depending on your view. He was a teacher, and a teacher from the old school. I suffered through the English Grammar School system, and I am pretty certain my Latin and English teachers were related to Edwin Barlow.
Edwin Barlow was also the first person to be awarded the `Teacher Of The Year' title. I know author Lawrence Meyers through some Internet email interactions. He is one smart cookie. And Edwin Barlow was one of his high school teachers.
Lawrence has worked long and hard on this biography. Mister Barlow was a deeply private person, and a man that deserves to be recognized. He shunned attention, he lived a monastic life, he terrified his students, and he likely was the best teacher in living memory. He lived the life of a pauper with few possessions, yet in death it was revealed that his estate was more that $400,000, most of which went to help an educational foundation.
Lawrence has taken a novel approach to the format of this book. "Part One: The Mister Barlow I Knew" is exactly that. It is Lawrence's own high school memories and also their relationship afterwards. Some of the stories had me in stitches. Mister Barlow comes across as a tyrannical despot bent on terrorizing his pupils. He had a particularly interesting bedside manner, referring to students that displeased him, which was a frequent occurrence, as `vegetables' or `clods'. My favorite quote though has to be, "Ms, Jones only prostitutes wear purple, get out of my class!"
Somehow I doubt that these tactics could be used in schools these days.
"Part Two: The Mister Barlow You Knew" is a collection of stories by other people who knew him, both as former students, and also colleagues and contemporaries. Once again he comes across as an enigma. Little is revealed about the private life of the man. He seemed to spend virtually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, skulking in his lair at Horace Greenly High School. On Sunday mornings, for example, he could be found at his desk doing the New York Times crossword.
"Part Three: The Mister Barlow Nobody Knew", pulls the veil aside. Lawrence, through grit and determination, followed every lead he could find, and eventually started to unearth the strange story of Edwin Barlow. A World War II veteran, wounded twice. A man with deep-seated religious beliefs who, for a time, gave serious thought of becoming a member of the clergy. A plan dashed by his experiences in the war, Edwin Barlow could not in good conscience join the cloth with blood on his hands. Education became his chosen profession.
The final part of the book, "Understanding Mister Barlow..." analyzes the enigma through his readings and writings. Much can be gleaned about a man by the books he read. Edwin Barlow had a real passion for "Alice In Wonderland". In fact, in a rare interview, when asked if he could be anyone in the world, his reply was Lewis Carroll.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a fabulous story, and the quality of writing is excellent.