Babalola focuses on the educator Tai Solarin and his elite Mayflower School in this nonfiction debut.
Tai Solarin, who died in 1994, is well remembered in his native Nigeria as an educator, author, political activist, and secular humanist. From obscure origins (even the year of his birth is in doubt), Solarin navigated the British colonial system—serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II and then attending Manchester University—to become an iconic advocate of self-reliance in the first decades of Nigerian independence. His crowning achievement, as argued by Babalola, was the establishment of the secular Mayflower School in Solarin’s native Ikenne. The revolutionary hands-on curriculum involved many activities that nearly scared away Babalola as a young, prospective student: “They constructed dormitories, washed their food bowls and had to do a lot of farming, getting hands dirty doing manual jobs. These were things I had been brainwashed were only meant” for the plebeians “in the society!” The author describes his education at the school and his immersion in Solarin’s idiosyncratic pedagogy based on hard work, independent thought, and self-determination. In Babalola’s rendering, Solarin and his school become a symbolic manifestation of Nigeria itself, one that can illuminate both the nation’s past and its potential for the future. The book, a slim 71 pages, is more of a lengthy, affectionate remembrance than a comprehensive biography. Babalola makes no claims of objectivity: he remains an unabashedly nostalgic Mayflower alumnus and a devotee of Solarin’s philosophy. While the educator certainly comes across as an impressive figure, the reader cannot help but marvel at the superhuman stature the man holds in the minds of his former pupils. Here, Babalola describes his feelings upon learning of Solarin’s death: “My whole system viscerally rejected the very thought of Tai being the object of death. The name of Tai had become synonymous with life, not a name associated with mortality or transience.” The author’s admiration for Solarin is touching, though many readers may come away feeling more bemused by Mayflower’s unusual brand of school spirit than converted to the tao of Tai.
A loving tribute to a maverick of Nigerian education.