On Sunday, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” focused its attention to school segregation in the U.S., a problem that is still very much alive and well. After briefly covering segregation’s evolution — from Brown v. Board of Education to its present form — Oliver turned the bulk of his commentary towards those most affected by segregation: students from working class and minority backgrounds. While the whole episode is worth watching, there were several key points that are worth taking a deeper look.
New York state has the most segregated school system in the U.S.
CREDIT: Mista Makaveli / YouTube
This might come as a surprise, but as Oliver pointed out, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mainly targeted segregation laws that were prevalent in the South. Meanwhile segregation in states like New York went largely unchecked, leading to the current problems found in the state’s school systems. Even Malcolm X called out New York’s problem with segregation back in 1964. All these years later, one troubling fact remains: “Fifty-five years after the Brown decision,” according to The Civil Rights Project, “blacks and Latinos in American schools are more segregated than they have been in more than four decades.”
Latinos face the highest levels of segregation in California.
CREDIT: RT AMERICA / YOUTUBE
Los Angeles, the city with the second highest population of Latinos in the U.S., is also home to the highest level of educational segregation among Latinos. Schools in Los Angeles’ lower income areas — like Inland Empire — are attended by Latinos whose families lack the resources necessary to give their children the educational advantages that middle class children have access to. As a result, many Latinos get left behind at a young age.
Educational segregation affects students for their entire life.
“Black and Latino children,” Oliver points out, “are more likely to attend schools with inexperienced teachers, which are then less likely to then offer a college prep curriculum.” If you are a part of a school system that lacks the resources necessary to teach its students, then imagine how hard it will be to keep up with college students or professionals who come from qualified schools. This game of catch-up can haunt poorer minorities their entire life, and many of them will drop out of school or end up incarcerated. These unfortunate statistics then trickle down to their children, who are likely to struggle from similar economic and social setbacks.
Segregation severely damages these student’s self-esteem, leading to long-term feelings of inferiority.
CREDIT: THE CYCLE / LEAN FORWARD / MSNBC
During the show, John Oliver introduced his audience to Chanel Smith, who appeared on MSNBC. In her brief clip, Chanel summed up what it feels like to attend a segregated school: “When we go and contact with these white children — or should I say caucasian — they don’t know how to act because they believe that they’re better than us. And we don’t know how to act because we believe that they’re better than us.” Facts and figures are great for building a case, but Chanel’s testimony highlights exactly what is at stake on a personal level.
Desegregation isn’t about parents and their children.
CREDIT: VOA NEWS / YOUTUBE
Oliver argues against the perception that desegregation violates a parent’s right to choose where their child gets an education. A desegregated school benefits everyone, and, as Oliver states, kids won’t be kids forever. One day they’re going to be adults who need to work with other adults from diverse backgrounds. By keeping them in segregated schools, we’re preventing students from acquiring the real world education they need to function in today’s increasingly diverse socio-economic world.