This paper shows how school segregation hurts students because it deepens the societal gaps already there based on attitudes toward race and economic status. Student bodies which are made up of various races or social classes allow children to realize that everyone should be treated equally. On the other hand, segregated schools with students who are less affluent receive less in terms of resources and quality of instruction than do other schools. As a consequence, parents of affluent students do not wish to send their children to these schools, which only makes the problem of segregation get worse. The paper also describes my experiences in high school which serve to make me both support the Brown V. Board of Education ruling and understand how far away we are from the principles supported in that ruling.

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In 1954, the case of Brown Versus the Board of Education determined that schools should not be segregated based on color or class. This ruling resulted in an increasing desegregation of schools, which lasted until nearly the end of the 20th century. Since then, though, the rates of segregation in schools has been increasing. Nikole Hannah-Smith discussed this trend on the Fresh Air Podcast, saying that the segregation, which was allowed because of a problem that is not only based on system-wide principles, but also based on the individual choices of many parents (NPR, 2017). The problem is that many parents of affluent children do not wish to place their children in poorer schools because of the belief that the education in those schools is somehow less than their children will receive in schools with more affluent children. This is partially true because schools with predominantly black or Hispanic children or those with poor students tend to receive fewer resources than do other schools. Thus, the schools become increasingly separated, whereas if children from all classes within society and all races mixed, resources would be spread more equally, and perhaps the factors which make it difficult for poorer students would become easier since the distinctions which make them segregated in the first place might not exist. School segregation is a sign of a larger societal problem because it shows how individuals are making decisions which cause the gaps between races and social classes to widen rather than become narrower, as was the intent behind the Brown V. Board of Education ruling.

Does Segregation in Public Schools Hurt Students?
The segregation of students in public schools hurts students, primarily because, as Hannah-Smith notes in the podcast (NPR, 2017), schools with a largely black or Hispanic student body tend to receive fewer resources than do those of more affluent students. According to Hannah-Smith (NPR 2017), they receive less funding, the quality of instruction is lower, and they do not have access to the same technology. This means that they are forced to try and teach children to the same standards as other schools with less to work with. Even if they were given equal resources with other schools, however, segregating students would be harmful to them because it is only reinforcing the belief held by many that the children in these schools are somehow less intelligent than the children in more affluent schools. Hannah-Smith (NPR 2017) notes that many parents, when confronted with the need to send their affluent children to a school with a traditionally poorer student body, felt that their children would be “dumbed down” (NPR 2017) because of the school which they would be attending. This means that even if resources were equal, these parents would have a problem sending their children to a poorer one because of the perception that the children themselves are not as intelligent. If schools were not segregated, there would not be the same opportunity for a portion of the population to receive a less quality education because they had access to less resources than another. This would help less affluent students to be able to show that they are just as intelligent as more affluent students, which can be proven by the fact that the gap in test score results was less when school segregation was at its lowest point in the late 1980s (NPR 2017). Increasing integration in student bodies gives an equal opportunity to all students, and also allows people to see that there is really no difference in the intelligence of students from different races or social classes, which would hopefully help parents to realize that their children cannot be “dumbed down” by exposure to other races or levels of affluence.

Did My High School Experience Include Segregation?
Since I moved during my high school years, I had the opportunity to experience two very different kinds of school. One school was integrated, in that it held students from several different races and levels of affluence. At least among the student body in this school, there was very little attention paid to anyone’s race or economic status. The second school I attended, however, was an inner-city school which, although it contained students from several races, was made up of students with poor families. In this school, there was a definite feeling that we were somehow less than the students from richer schools. There was the feeling that we had to work harder for what we had and that children from other schools had more opportunities because they had more money. In many ways, the children from my second school felt they were viewed as different, somehow less, than the children from other schools. The student morale in my second school was less than that in my first, leading me to believe that segregation, at least by social class or economic status, is harmful because it led to the students in my second school feeling that they had fewer opportunities than those in other schools, whether this was true or not.

Would Schools in My Area Have Been Different Without Segregation?
Life in my first high school would probably have been much different without the Brown V. Board of Education ruling, because without that ruling perhaps the student body would have been much less diverse. This would have meant that I, along with the rest of the student body, may not have learned to accept people of different races on an equal footing with ourselves. This would have only served to bring the prejudices of those who do not believe that the races can co-exist on an equal footing into my generation. I do not think, however. That the Brown V. Board of Education ruling would have made much difference to my second high school. This school was not segregated by race, but had a student body that was poor because the neighborhood in which I loved was poor. The fact was that we felt ourselves to be getting less in terms of resources, with or without the anti-segregation ruling. The only way for us to have felt differently was for us to have the same opportunities presented to us as were presented to more affluent student bodies.

How Close are We to the Principles Inherent in the Brown Ruling?
While my experiences in my first high school lead me to support what was intended by the Brown V. Board of Education ruling, my experiences in my second school show me how far away from those principles we are as a society. Hannah-Smith (NPR 2017) tells how the parents in her community rebelled against sending their children to a school with mostly black or Hispanic students. They did not wish to do so because they perceived that either the children were less intelligent or that the school would not have the same quality of education available to their children. The second of these assumptions is correct, because less affluent schools get less resources. This is a sign that the problem of segregation is system-wide as well as because of individual choices. Until we learn to treat all students equally, no matter what race or economic status they are, the principle of equal treatment that was encouraged by the Brown ruling will not be seen within the school system. There will always be have and have-not schools, which means that there will always be parents who choose to send their children to more affluent schools, leaving less affluent schools to those who have no other choices. Like Hannah-Smith, I understand that making these changes on a system-wide level will not be easy. Hannah-Smith says: “The systems that and the actions that created this inequality took a lot of effort and a lot of time. And we want to undo them, you know, with no pain for anyone with a snap of the fingers” (NPR 2017). Hannah-Smith says that even though there is a recognizable need for change in the system which creates segregated schools, the system is intrenched enough that it will take time and work to change it, which is something many do not seem to recognize.

Segregation within the school system only serves to deepen the divide between those of different races and economic status. In order to make those gaps lessen, schools need to integrate students from all social classes. Only when that is done and all students and schools are treated equally, no matter race or social class, can the students learn to get along with each other. Though it would not be easy, in the beginning, to make these changes because of the social hardships that some students who are different may feel, when those differences become a common occurrence within the student body they will cease to matter and the school will have a truly integrated population where everyone has equal opportunities.

  • NPR (2017, Jan 16). “How the Systemic Segregation of Schools is Maintaned by ‘Individual Choices’”. Fresh Air Podcast. Podcast retrieved from Retrieved 2017, Feb 25.