Integrated classes change student's world view
Irons reflects on the transformative character of West Charlotte, a school with the power to banish stereotypes from its students' minds. Part of this power comes from West Charlotte's total integration. As Irons says, "I've been to integrated schools but I've never been to an integrated class before." Thoroughly integrated classes have changed Irons's world view.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Ned Irons, March 16, 1999. Interview K-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: Did you have the stereotypes before you came here?
NI: Oh, yeah. And I think it wouldn’t be accurate to say that there are people who are completely open minded and come to West Charlotte and don’t have any stereotypes. Everybody’s, “Oh, I love everybody, and I don’t have any preconceived notions of how you’re supposed to act.” I think everybody, whether consciously or subconsciously, has preconceived notions of people before they meet them. West Charlotte just changed that for me. And, for me, I grew up in sort of a liberal household, so I don’t think I had as many stereotypes as some of the people that I associated with when I came here. To see them now from when they were a sophomore, they have changed completely, and not through any intentional actions but just through speaking and communicating and being friends with people who aren’t like them. I mean, it’s hard to be friends with somebody and then to carry that stereotype onto somebody else, because you say, “It doesn’t apply here, so how can I be sure that it applies to everyone I know?”
PG: How do you see that change?
NI: Mostly the way I see it is in the way people speak about each other. In sophomore year there’s a lot of “they’s” and “we’s.” Well, that’s how they do it, and that’s just how they are, that’s how they speak. And now it’s individual more, “Oh, well he is a very bright kid,” or “She speaks that way because of this.” I think there’s a lot more understanding of cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic backgrounds where you don’t just put a label on it. I think you more grow to understand why something is the way it is, why behavior comes across the way it does.
PG: Can you think of an example of that? Something that you would have perceived differently before having come to West Charlotte?
NI: For the most part I would say that before I came to West Charlotte I didn’t have a lot of black kids in my advanced classes. And I would say that there are smart black kids out there, but they just don’t have the resources and tools to advance in this world, and I’ve never seen a smart black kid in any of my classes before I came to West Charlotte. And, first day I got to West Charlotte I walk into my AP English class and it’s probably sixty percent black and forty percent white. It was really like, “Wait a second. This is an advanced class.” I’ve been to integrated schools, but I’ve never been to an integrated class before. And so I thought, “Wow.” And I don’t know if it was consciously at the time that I thought, “Wow, this is different.” But looking back on it now I can say that I don’t remember thinking of advanced placement black kids in middle school, and now I think of it as really half and half, because all of my AP classes are half black and half white, about. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I would really say that I hadn’t observed advanced thinking in minority students until I came to West Charlotte.
PG: So you have been to centrally integrated schools, but you hadn’t had a very integrated experience at those schools?
NI: I hadn’t, and that’s been my general experience with ( ) schools is that after you get off the bus everybody is integrated, but once you go into your separate classes it becomes segregated again. I think that is the thing about West Charlotte, and to be able to be around people who can verbally express what racism is like. Like what being black in America is like, is what really wakes you up to reality, instead of thinking the preconceived notions that we all have. I think it’s being around individuals who are intelligent and well spoken of all races is what really changed my perspective on how the world functions, I guess.