The Mystery And Legacy Of Edwin Barlow

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 book 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 posessions, 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 are a collection of stories by other people who knew him, both as former students and also fellow 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 Carrol.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a fabulous story, and the quality of writing is excellent.

You can get your copy here, Lawrence also has a companion web site.

Simon Barrett

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