On Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver addressed the issue of America's schools, pointing out that despite the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation in the country's education system remains widespread.
“Segregated schools cause devastating harm to actual children, and not just to their education, but to their sense of self-worth,” Oliver says in the segment. “Classrooms should teach children about self-esteem, not rip it from them — because that’s what prom is for.”
Oliver cited a study conducted by a civil rights group at UCLA that found, perhaps surprisingly, that the southern portion of the country actually has the least segregation in its schools, while New York state has the most. The cause of the trouble across the nation, Oliver says, lies largely in long-standing systemic racism and discriminatory housing policies.
"Remember, if you just assign kids to their neighborhood schools, and their neighborhoods are segregated, you will have a segregated school," he points out.
Enter St. Charles' Francis Howell school district.
"Clearly there are some parents who it seems would resist just about anything that might result in integration," Oliver says. "Just listen to how these parents in St. Louis reacted to the idea of students from a mostly black community being added to their schools."
The segment then shows news footage of a packed Francis Howell Central High School gymnasium — an unbroken sea of white faces, it should be noted — with speakers registering their opposition to the practice of bussing in students from predominantly black schools.
"So will this district send my son to a better school when this one goes down?" asks one lady, to great applause.
"We don't want this here in Francis Howell," another man says emphatically.
"I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed or taking a drug or getting robbed — because that's the issue," says a particularly pearl-clutchy woman.
"That is not subtle," a flabbergasted Oliver says of the last woman. "She is just a 'homies' and a 'baggy pants' away from full dog-whistle Bingo."
While Oliver recognizes that it is natural for parents to be protective of their children, he says it doesn't excuse discriminatory practices.
"The hard truth is, you don't have to be intentionally racist to do things that have racist effects," he says.
Watch the video for yourself below. The piece pertaining to Francis Howell starts at approximately the eleven-minute mark.