But if a person does their schooling in an expensive private school, plays sport against other private schools, goes on to university with primarily selective and private school graduates, gets a professional job, they might get to know fewer people from different backgrounds, and are less likely to empathise with them.
– commenter Bruce, 23 February
In race relations analysis, this is known as the ‘contact hypothesis’ – that mixing will lead to mutual understanding and improved relations. Under fairly restrictive conditions contact can achieve the desired goals. But absent those conditions contact can have the opposite effect, confirming bad impressions and worsening ill-feeling.
So we can’t be sure that a toffs meets trailer trash school policy would have a positive effect on mutual relations. The poor as an abstract entity may win more empathy than the poor in person. And the rich as a snobbish, privileged presence in the same classroom may inspire more resentment than than the rich as a distant social class.
Whatever the possible outcomes of shared classrooms, analysis of social attitudes by school background suggests that generally where someone went to school doesn’t seem to have a large influence, as the following figures show (all vertical axes show percentages).
People who went to government schools are both slightly more generous and slightly harsher on the unemployed, perhaps showing greater need for assistance and awareness of its pathologies, but not holding substantially different views. The groups also hold similar views on income gaps between rich and poor (though with the slight difference in the expected direction) and assistance for single parents.
No matter how diverse the classrooms of our youth, we are only likely to meet in them a small percentage of the social types we will come across in our lives, and a tiny percentage of the social types potentially deserving of our empathy. It is very unlikely that attending a private school would diminish their students’ lifetime capacity to learn about and feel for other people.