John Oliver Is Wrong on Education | We the Internet TV
On his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver did a segment on school segregation. Now, to his credit, he identified a real problem. [OLIVER] Even as our society has grown more diverse, nearly 7,000 schools have the same racial makeup as the audience of your average Tyler Perry movie. And that one white guy is Leonard Maltin and he has to be there, it’s his job. ‘Boo: A Medea Halloween – three stars.’ [LOU] He was also willing to call out his core audience. [REPORTER] According the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the South is the least segregated region for black students. And in fact, New York state is now the most segregated system in America, in large part due to New York City. [OLIVER] Oh shit, liberal white New Yorkers! Twist ending: you were racist the whole time! [LOU] Whoa! John Oliver calling out New York liberals? Hey, don’t bite the hand that rage shares your videos, bro. But unfortunately, while he spends a whole show arguing against segregated schools, he fails to acknowledge that school choice can help solve the issue. Now, we don’t know why John Oliver isn’t getting the message on charter schools, so we’ve put this in a format he can understand:
his show. That’s right, we have recreated John Oliver’s format. We didn’t actually do anything, we already had the desk, so, all we need is for you, the viewer at home, to already agree with everything we say. We also need our writers to cram in unrelated side jokes, where you’re talking about something else, and then before you know it, another topic slides in, like airline passengers cutting in the boarding line. (John Oliver voice) Dammit, passenger with Group 3 boarding pass! We’re getting on the same plane! It’ll leave at the same time! This always happens. Is anybody going to call bullshit on this?
(canned laughter) (normal voice) Oh stop it, stop it unbelievably sympathetic studio audience! That was a terrible accent I just did. Right, school segregation. The problem is that even though Brown vs The Board of Education made it illegal to have segregated schools, if you have segregated zip codes – and your zip code determines what school you go to – you still have segregated schools. It’s kind of like how it’s illegal to discriminate against gender, but if you only recruit employees from that weird sword store in the mall, you’ll get a mostly male IT department. (John Oliver voice) Sure, people laughed at the idea of selling Medieval armaments next to Orange Julius, but you know who’s not laughing? Dragons! (normal voice) Right, so, the simplest way to remedy schools segregated by zip code, is to make it so that you don’t have to go to a particular school based on your zip code. Some kind of program where you could choose a school. How about we call it ‘school choice’? Yeah, that’s a snappy name! You may have heard of it because this is the third time I’ve said it so far, and also because 37% of American students have some form of access to it. Which rivals the 38% of American students who knew what dabbing was well before you did. (John Oliver voice) What is dabbing? I still don’t know! Is it a website? Is this accent getting worse? Yes it is… (normal voice) Additionally, 5% of American students are enrolled in charter schools, including a disproportionate number of minorities, reflecting efforts to make them available in under-served cities. Unfortunately, there are only so few available seats in New York City, where John Oliver and most of his audience live, that last year more than 3 students applied for each one of the 22,000 spots. That’s a worse ratio than you’d get from, (John Oliver voice) insert ridiculous situation here. Am I right? (laughter and applause) (normal voice) Oliver uses the time he saves ignoring charter schools to wag his finger at parents who are afraid of integrated schools. And he’s right, parents shouldn’t be afraid of them. However, it’s like he almost expends effort to not acknowledge school choice. When you give people the choice of schools, they love it, while complicated government formulas cause controversy in their communities, and are hard to administer. It’s also important to note that desegregation is not the full story on improving schools. At the same time more than half of school age children are minorities, there are vast areas of the country that are overwhelmingly white, and won’t be able to desegregate short of bussing Michigan to South Dakota. Also, a homogenous ethnic makeup of a classroom isn’t a barrier to it being successful. Look at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a predominantly black school that has had a 100% college acceptance rate. According to Oliver’s rubric, if we’re only judging schools based on their diversity, a school like Thurgood Marshall Academy would be a failure. But to the students there, and their parents, and anyone who knows what success looks like, it’s a success. It’s why a leading expert has noted: “Oliver did not include in this story voices of black parents who want a high-quality school for their children, independent of its racial makeup. There are good majority-black public schools in America. Some are traditional schools, some are magnet or specialty schools, and others are charters.” Looping everything under a segregation banner trivializes the discussion. Falling back on blaming segregation and ignoring other methods of improving schools is a tired formula. And while formulas can be great for comedy, we’d all agree viewers should have the choice to change the channel. So what do you think? Could school choice help end school segregation? And how bad was my John Oliver impression? Let us know in the comments and subscribe to our channel, We The Internet TV, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for new videos every week.