Civic Education Is Harder in Segregated Schools

Learning together creates better citizens.

Posted Aug 20, 2018

School segregation is once again in the news across the country. March brought with it a statistical debate about the extent of school racial segregation in the United States. In May, a coalition of civil rights advocates filed a suit to racially desegregate school districts throughout New Jersey. In North Carolina, charter school legislation passed in June was criticized by the State NAACP as leading to increasing school racial segregation. A new plan to reduce economic segregation in schools by changing college admissions policies received national attention several weeks ago.    

Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Gades Photography on Unsplash

Here is one demographic fact: The number of schools with very large populations of poor, Black or Hispanic students and few White students or students from affluent families increased sharply between 2010 and 2014, according to the Government Accounting Office. There’s little indication that school segregation has diminished in the last four years.

We should care about school segregation for a variety of reasons. School segregation is associated with lowered academic achievement, for example. But most importantly, school segregation interferes with civic education. School segregation makes preparing the next generation of American citizens more difficult.  

Segregation increases resentment and distrust.  When an homogeneous group—as occurs when a school’s population is largely of one ethnic background—comes into contact with a member from another group, exclusionary attitudes arise (Enos, 2014). Civic education at its core requires the promotion of a shared identity as a citizen. Because school segregation promotes exclusion rather than inclusion, ethnic and economic identities rather than national and community ones, school segregation is corrosive for civic education.  

The history of school desegregation in the United States suggests that progress was substantial following the famous Brown vs the Board of Education ruling of the Supreme Court in 1954, but much slower in recent years. Future success in desegregating schools will require continued efforts by school administrators to provide educational opportunities that both attract and are open to students from different ethnic and economic backgrounds.  Fully integrated schools will also require that towns and cities eliminate exclusionary housing laws that result in homogeneous communities.

Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

Integrated schools and communities are best for our children. Children who grow up in integrated communities earn more as adults, according to research by Raj Chetty. More importantly, integrated schools and communities provide a foundation for the development of the next generation of American citizens. This is especially so because the racial composition of our population is changing and is on an inevitable course to become majority minority. It is a given that racial groups will have to learn how to get along and to appreciate one another as this new society emerges. The maintenance of our democracy depends on citizens who agree that personal striving and seeking the common good are compatible ideas.


Enos, R.D.  (2014).  Causal effect of intergroup contact on exclusionary attitudes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.