In a new article in Sociology of Education (free pre-print version here), I look at the old idea that education “breaks the link” between people’s socioeconomic background as children and their own prospects as adults.
I find that this link (the intergenerational income elasticity) is strongest—and that intergenerational economic mobility is lowest—among high school dropouts. This means that, for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, the usual penalty for dropping out is compounded by the fact that their lack of family-based resources matters more than it would if they earned a degree. Conversely, dropouts from advantaged backgrounds can use their family-based resources to compensate for the lack of a degree.
Earning a high school degree or more seems to weaken these family background effects.
Whatever else we learn in segregated schools, we also learn that people are different, and that it is natural to be in separate communities and civic institutions. That some people belong together and others should be kept apart.
It’s a small step from there to believe that some people are better than others, or that others are our rivals.
Many schools are still highly segregated, though not by law, and a lot of us probably take those steps, whether we know it or not.
Segregated schools and segregated upbringings make us ignorant about other people’s perspectives and experiences. They make it easier for us to believe stereotypes. They make it harder to empathize with others.
This all makes it easier for racism and other hateful ideologies to thrive and to seep into our minds, even if it is in subtle ways that we may never notice.
Desegregated schools would not automatically solve all these problems, and sometimes segregation can help vulnerable people protect themselves or their cultures from others who aren’t tolerant of them.
But socializing “different types” of people together in equal environments would give people’s basic human decency a better chance to win out over ignorance. And wouldn’t that be nice?
And I thought busing was pretty much dead politically…
POTUS, when asked if he sees busing as a viable way to integrate schools:
TRUMP: Well, that’s something that they’ve done for a long period of time. You know, there aren’t that many ways you’re going to get people to schools. So this is something that’s been done. In some cases, it’s been done with a hammer instead of a velvet glove. And, you know, that’s part of it. But this has been certainly a thing that’s been used over the — I think if Vice President Biden had answered the question somewhat differently, it would have been a different result. Because they really did hit him hard on that one. But it is certainly a primary method of getting people to schools.
Desegregation advocates have an opening. Busing: how else are we going to get people to schools?
Yongjun Zhang and I just finished a new article trying to understand how local circumstances influence the survival (or dismissal) of school desegregation cases. You can read more about this and other school segregation research here or view this article at the American Journal of Sociology.