John Oliver Slams 'Devastating' School Segregation Policies

The 'Last Week Tonight' host attacked failed desegregation efforts.

Last Week Tonight/YouTube

John Oliver is back, and this time, he’s shining a light on the racist schooling policies that have led to a nation divided. In an episode of Last Week Tonight that aired Sunday, Oliver noted that despite the Civil Rights Act and decades of campaigning, segregated schools are still having a widespread detrimental effect on the American education system.

“Segregated schools cause devastating harm to actual children, and not just to their education, but to their sense of self-worth,” Oliver said, playing a clip of a black student. “Classrooms should teach children about self-esteem, not rip it from them, because that’s what prom is for.”

The issue is widespread, and even liberal-leaning areas of the country have long-standing problems with desegregation. A UCLA civil rights project found that the south is actually the least segregated region of the country, while New York state is actually the most segregated. The state’s segregation figures were largely driven up by New York City.

It may seem surprising, but it makes more sense when you consider the Civil Rights Act. Northern politicians pushed the act to focus on southern-style segregation that explicitly ruled out non-white students from attending certain schools, but failed to account for conditions that achieved the same effect in northern cities, like racist housing policies.

“If you are thinking, ‘That is some hypocritical bullshit,’ you are not alone!” Oliver said. “Malcolm X was pointing this out in New York at the time!”

Policies around the country have helped combat the issue. Boston runs a voluntary program that sends kids to the suburbs, while Louisville in Kentucky hosts a similar scheme. In the case of the latter, 90 percent of kindergarten families received their first choice of schools.

Desegregation has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the education of black and Latino students, while a study showed that white students experienced no negative effects from any of the measured categories. The policies can also help in important cultural education.

“If your school is overwhelmingly white, important nuances can be lost,” Oliver said, citing the story of a white child that dressed up as Martin Luther King Jr for a school project by putting black makeup on his face.

Last Week Tonight airs Sundays on HBO.