4 out of 4 stars
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I picked up the biography, Tai Solarin: Africa's Greatest Educationist and Humanist because he was an educator. As a teacher, I was interested to read about his famous Mayflower School where students were taught academic, technical, and life skills. I was increasingly impressed as I read about this man who inspired his students to reach for their dreams.
The layout of the book was not exactly what I was expecting from a biography. It does not follow a linear path from Tai’s birth to death. It starts out with a foreword written by a former student which focuses mainly on why the author is qualified to write the book. The next chapter is a tribute to the teacher by the author. He speaks of Tai’s humble character and dedicated life philosophy. Then another alumnus writes the introduction which is basically a review of the book itself. Only after all this does what I consider the meat of the story begin. Nevertheless, it begins at the end with the author describing how he learned of Tai’s death. Interestingly, Tai requested a quick and simple burial. This was very counter-cultural for Nigeria, but despite the crowds wanting to make their condolences, his wishes were honored. This is just one example of a man who did not follow convention but lived and died according to his own values.
The rest of the book details both Tai’s life and the legacy of the Mayflower School he founded. Tai came from poor beginnings. He worked to put himself through school, became a teacher and joined the Royal Navy. He faced many obstacles but refused to quit. Throughout his life, he also fought for social justice. His opposition to the government even got him imprisoned.
My favorite part of the book was the chapter describing a typical week at the Mayflower School. Students were awakened at 5:30 AM for exercise and morning assembly. There was a high moral code and students caught skipping assembly were punished. Assembly consisted of singing and a morning lecture about either philosophy or scientific research. This was followed by breakfast and classes. One group of students each day would be excused from classes to work around the campus. The afternoon included lunch, siesta, and what was called society activities. Students were divided into groups to take care of animals or work in the fields. After supper, there was an evening assembly. Students were given quiet time to reflect, read, and memorize famous speeches. The author reports that he read 5-10 books a week while attending Mayflower. The day ended with a study hall and sometimes singing. Saturdays were for farm work and cleaning. In the evening there would be time for games and social activities. Sundays there was a community gathering. Tai would speak to the students about his life philosophy. As an atheist, he believed man had only himself to rely on. He spoke of diligence, persistence, generosity, the value of suffering, and self-denial. I was especially interested in his belief that leaders should live and suffer just like the masses. Then they would sympathize with the people and work together to improve everyone’s lives.
This school was so different from what we see today. The combination of military discipline, practical knowledge, and high academic expectations created numerous high-profile, successful graduates. The author felt that many of Nigeria’s current problems could be solved by following Tai’s life philosophy and values. I tend to agree. For this reason, I rate Tai Solarin 4 out of 4 stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in social justice, educational reform, or positive thinking.
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