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Written by Mr. Schroeder a social studies teacher at Oracle Charter high school in Buffalo, NY
As Super Bowl week drags on and the boastful remarks of Seattle Seahawks defensive back, Richard Sherman, remain solidly in the news, the issue of stereotyping individuals, specifically inner-city youth, comes to mind. Much like the clanging noise used to startle “Little Albert” during the conditioning experiments of psychologist John B. Watson, this issue continues to rattle around in my head.
On the surface, Richard Sherman, himself an urban youth less than a decade ago, appeared to be a cocky, self-absorbed millionaire athlete. Mainstream America sees a person of color with dreads and a lot of outward emotion and he is automatically labeled as a “thug.” However, if you take the time to delve below the surface, you find that he grew up in the city of Compton, a volatile and dangerous area near Los Angeles, CA. He resisted gang life and drug use to graduate second in his high school class and earn a scholarship to StanfordUniversity. He earned his bachelor’s degree and is continuing towards his master’s degree during the off season. Thug? Hardly. Evidence of stereotyping? Absolutely. But, perception is often reality in America.
Stereotyping is not an isolated incident. Our students face this reality often. Many in our community, and the area at large, perceive that our young men and women can’t succeed in school because of the dysfunction of urban school districts. Some people see urban teens and automatically assume they are apathetic about their education and future. I wish that more community members would visit OracleCharterSchool and witness the desire of many of our students to learn and achieve at a higher academic level. That they could hear the conversations about AP courses, NHS membership, and college applications. That they could attend an “award’s breakfast” and see the growing list of merit and honor students flanked by students earning “most improved” recognition. That they could sit in a classroom and watch a quality lesson planned and implemented by a caring teacher. That they could see the dedication of staff holding after school study sessions to help pupils catch up or prepare for interim exams and regents tests. That they could experience the acts of kindness and caring that happen often at our school – I know because I have been on the receiving end of several.
To be sure, we have issues like every other school. Some teenagers don’t always want to put in the necessary work until it is almost too late and graduation is on the line. But, I have been here almost since the school opened and I know there has been a shift in the culture of expectations and learning at Oracle. Stakes have been raised and many of our young men and women are working each day to meet them. Stereotypes exist and always will, but perhaps with more awareness of the environment of success at schools like Oracle, perceptions might be adjusted after all.
OracleCharterSchool is one of the high schools in Buffalo, NY, and is committed to expanding the horizons of its college bound students and enriching their world view