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Absurdly Divided School

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And non-binary students use the white stripe.
Schools, like any large social setting, are somewhat divided into smaller social groups. People generally want to hang out with those who have similar interests and personalities. As such people gravitate towards each other and spend more time together, friend groups form, and are considered a natural part of human psychology. But in fictionland, this can taken to its natural extreme— not only is the school divided, but those divides decide everything. The social groups hate each others' guts, actively work to sabotage each other, and betraying your group, maybe even by talking to an outsider, is a grievous sin. In short, the school does not have sets of friends so much as nations at cold war.

The most common forms of Absurd Division are:

  • Clique-Based: Every student is sorted into a clique based on skills or personal characteristics, and it's frowned upon to have friends or interests outside of your one clique. Sometimes there are so many cliques we need a Clique Tour to introduce them all, but other times it's boiled down to the basic "Popular Students versus Everyone Else", with that elite clique often being involved in sports. Please note though that a school just having cliques isn't enough — there must be some acknowledgment of the divide these cliques cause in order to count.
  • Social-Class-Based: The school is divided by the student's wealth or lack thereof; usually this means there are a wealthier elite and a less-wealthy majority, who may have less privilege and worse treatment. The students sort themselves based on class, and as a result, there's often a class war that ensues.
  • Grade-Based: Characters are split up by the school itself based on academic standing, with the worst-ranking students often treated like dirt. Moving up may be as simple as getting better grades, but these students may have their abilities sabotaged or limited, forcing them to stay where they are. This can overlap with the Social-Class variant pretty easily, as lower-class students are less likely to do as well in school, but it's not inherent.
  • House-Based: Usually limited to old-fashioned British private schools (and those modelled on them), the House system is distinguished primarily by the fact that it's officially imposed by the school to foster competition (academic, athletic, etc.). In real life, Houses are distinguished by Theme Naming, Colour-Coded for Your Convenience, and often not much else, with student placement being either random or legacy-based. In fiction, they will frequently represent different personality types in the same way as organic cliques — you can expect to find an academic House, a sporty one, and so on.

Of course, any division reason may apply, as long as the school is divided to such an extreme that there are at least two separate, co-existing cultures that are at odds with each other. It's extremely likely that one group will have the unquestioned highest social status, allowing the Alpha Bitch, Jerk Jock, Big Man on Campus, and Absurdly Powerful Student Council to thrive. It may also be enforced by the school's faculty, all the way up to a strict Dean Bitterman, who considers any attempt to shake up this system as rule-breaking and chaos. It can also be self-perpetuating, with the students themselves encouraging this divide, or rule-enforced, where this division is an actual school policy.

And rest assured; things will be shaken up. It's almost a guarantee that this system will be threatened somehow, either by the quirky protagonist breaking down the barriers, a major conflict between groups that force a solution to be found, or the divide's main-enforcer being thrown out of power. This isn't easy, and there's bound to be a lot of major opposition, but the heroes will invariably be on the side of fixing the divide and allowing students to be treated equally. Even if the system doesn't crumble entirely, the protagonist will often try and make things less strict.

The more extreme Sub-Trope of Intra-Scholastic Rivalry. Compare Urban Segregation and Aggressive Categorism, Fantastic Caste System, and Grouped for Your Convenience, all of which capture similar ideas about division and judgment, but on a wider scale than just a school setting. They may overlap if the school system is a product of the wider societal issues. Contrast with School Forced Us Together, where the school system acts to bring students with different personalities and backgrounds together.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This is a main plot concept in Assassination Classroom, in which the ruthless headmaster of an elite private school keeps grades up by segregating the academically under-achieving in a tumbledown shack a long way from the main building, instituting rules designed solely to inconvenience and humiliate them, and encouraging the other pupils to hate and despise them. Then the plot kicks off with these misfits being given the task of assassinating a super-powered mutant who has asked to be their new teacher.
  • In Boarding School Juliet, the school is built on a tiny island that the Towans and the people of the West fight over (like everything else). Technically it's two schools right next to each other, but the students regularly cross over to fight each other and field trips are more or less shared.
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun: The First Year arc and the spinoff story A Certain Scientific Mental Out show that Tokiwadai middle school takes the whole "clique" thing very seriously. Virtually everyone in the school is part of a clique, though some may be as small as 3, and the handful of students who aren't are seen as weird by the rest. Unlike most examples, these cliques aren't formed based on a common interest or trait. Instead they are formed around a particular student, a "Clique Leader", making the whole thing something of a popularity contest. There is a laundry list of strict rules governing how the cliques operate and interact with each other. It's unclear how many of these rules are official school rules but at the very least they are universally understood and followed. The student council elections go so far as to treat the cliques like political parties and the majority of the election rules revolve around them. There are also conflicts between cliques, which can escalate to outright violence, all with their own rules of engagement.
  • Freezing: West Genetics (and other Pandora training centers) is divided along grade lines; the later-year students are literally lower-years' military superiors. The Adults Are Useless, so this turns into a Drill Sergeant Nasty scenario where the upperclassmen are free to brutally bully the younger students virtually without consequences. The entire first arc consists of our second-year protagonist getting into an escalating one-woman war with the third-year students, until the Student Council President finally directly orders the third-years to stand down after a transfer student gets dragged into it.
  • In GTO: Paradise Lost, Onizuka has to teach the G-class, where students are all teenage entertainers who are divided into three classes (A, B, and C) ranked by celebrity and enjoying, for the higher ranks, more privileges such as being able to more easily leave during courses.
  • In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Shuchiin Academy students are divided between the "pure" students who have been in the Academy since childhood (since the school is an Elevator School that houses grades from kindergarten to university), and the "impure" students who transferred in from other schools. The fact that Shirogane managed to become the Student Council President despite being "impure" is considered very impressive.
  • An interesting example for Honnouji Academy in Kill la Kill where the students are not divided by cliques or clubs, but by star level, from the President of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council and her four 3-star generals to the pathetic no stars that make up the general population. A student's star level dictates what resources they and their families have access to. Upward mobility is possible, but grueling and, unless you can come up with a unique and new school club of your own, requires replacing someone else to get past 1-star.
  • Lapis Re:LiGHTs features Flora Girls' Academy, a Wizarding School where the academic performance of a student and their group determines the color of their uniform and the privileges they have. From highest to lowest, they are Noire (black), Rouge (red), and finally Lapis (blue). The 1st episode of the anime shows that Noire students have free access to the cafeteria and the baths while Lapis students have to wait till late at night.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Duel Academy students get grouped into three dorms: Obelisk Blue students are the elites, in either dueling skills or family connections, Ra Yellow students are mostly promising duelists, and Osiris/Slifer Red students are considered rejects and losers. There's a lot of strife between dorms — at least, until Judai Yuki (an Osiris/Slifer Red) starts shaking up the status quo.

    Comic Books 
  • Berrybrook Middle School: "Awkward" has the Art and Science clubs completely at odds with each other, especially when there's competition involved. It only stops when their fighting results in them being forcibly disbanded by the Principal. After both that and Peppi and Jaime uniting them, they're on much better terms with each other.

    Fan Works 
  • In My Immortal, Hogwarts is apparently divided into two antagonistic groups, the villainous, pastel-wearing, pop-music loving "Prepz", and the protagonist's group, the "goffs", who wear dark colors, listen to "goffik" music, and even change their names to sound more "evil" or "dark". These two groups are so utterly opposed to each other that they regularly insult, torment, and assault one-another, but the "preps" are in a position of power, due to most of the school faculty taking their side. It used to be even worse in the past, as Enoby learns that Dumblydore used to be so anti-"goff", he'd send students to Azkaban for it.
  • In When Reason Fails, the student body of UA is divided into several independent groups called Cabals that look out for themselves, and sometimes kill each other either due to rivalries, grudges, or personal ambitions of the perpetrators.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bratz has the division as an actual school rule. When the four main characters first arrive, the Alpha Bitch Meredith tries to sort them and everyone else into cliques in an effort to keep everything orderly. This actually manages to work for a few years, as everyone but Yasmin manages to fit into a clique, and the later attempts to break out of this situation are what create the big conflict.
  • Deconstructed in The Breakfast Club, along with the archetypal characters associated with said cliques. Their separate social circles had kept them apart, turned them into terrible people due to the pressures (from both their classmates and their parents) to conform to the stereotypes, and left them with a lot of baggage to work through. Spending detention together causes them to become friends.
  • High School Musical: A big plot point in the first film was about how the school was so divided into cliques that everyone was horrified when Troy wanted to do something besides basketball. There's an entire song about how some of the students are having their secret passions suppressed, simply because their friends can't stand the thought of them expanding beyond their niche.
  • Lemonade Mouth: The high school is very much run on the principle of "Athletes Vs. Everyone Else". All the non-athletic clubs are shoved into the basement and severely neglected by their sports-obsessed principal, and when the titular band tries and revolt against this unfair treatment, they get bullied by the most powerful kids in school and targeted by said principal as well.
  • In Mean Girls, the school is aggressively split into cliques. These cliques, we are told, dictate your whole social life and capital; there is no overlap between them. The possibility that Cady would even be friends with Janis is akin to social suicide.
  • In Sky High (2005), the titular school is divided between heroes and "hero support", also known as sidekicks, based solely on their powers at the time of enrollment. "Hero support" students are looked down on by pretty much everyone else, and outright bulled in most cases, in addition to their classroom being much smaller and poorly funded, and them not even having the privilege to choose their own hero names. The driving conflict of the film is the protagonist being sorted into hero support for not having a superpower. Being relegated to hero support was also the Start of Darkness for Sue Tenny, aka the supervillain Royal Pain, especially given that her technopath power wound up being highly valued and getting her placed on the hero track when her de-aged self went back to school as Gwen Grayson.
  • The Wave (1981) is about a high school teacher creating a social movement (the Wave) in his class encouraging discipline and a definite us/them mentality, which at first produces positive results but quickly degenerates into an elitist environment where people get ostracized for not joining the movement. The teacher quickly announces the movement's leader will make a televised broadcast... and shows a picture of Hitler.

  • The Asterisk War: The six schools of Asterisk compete among themselves for recruits, funding, and resources from the integrated enterprise foundations, and all field prize-fighter teams for the annual Festa tournaments. Arlequint Academie takes this even further, deliberately factionalizing its own student body and forcing the factions to compete within the school for research grants.
  • In Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts, the students at Fumizuki Academy are academically sorted by the entrance exam test grades. The higher the grades, the higher the class, therefore better the benefits. In this case, Class A is filled with the highest-scoring students; therefore, their classroom is filled with many prestigious items (air conditioners, fancy seats, laptops, a free snack bar, etc.), while the state of Class F is the complete opposite of that, representing the "Bottom of the Barrel/Lowest of the Low" amenities, such as mats and low wooden tables.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Experiment House, in C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair, is a horrid example of this trope. Run on the theory that "boys and girls should be allowed to do what they liked," a gang of bullies take over and make the lives of all the others, including our protagonists Jill and Eustace, living nightmares. They are so feared that they are referred to only as "Them", and the faculty is on "Their" side: "The Head said they were interesting psychological cases and sent for them and talked to them for hours. And if you knew the right sort of things to say to the Head, the main result was that you became rather a favourite than otherwise."
  • In Classroom of the Elite, all of the classes in the Tokyo Metropolitan Advanced Nurturing School have some rivalry with each other, but Class-D is especially looked down upon by the others since it's where the inferior students are housed.
  • Hogwarts students in Harry Potter are divided into four houses (Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw) when they join the Wizarding School. Each year, they compete in a contest about getting the most school points on good behavior, and whichever house gets the most points at the end of the school year wins the House Cup. In addition, they also compete in a Quidditch tournament every year. This results in Hogwarts Houses being very tribalistic (especially between Gryffindor and Slytherin) and have wildly differing cultures, such as Slytherin having more support for blood purity and Ravenclaw being more intellectual. This setup derived from a dispute among the Hogwarts founders about which personality type (and in Salazar Slytherin's case, which ancestry) the school should recruit.
  • Impractical Magic: Istima is referred to as the 'Six Court Academy'. There are stereotypes based on each court's unique hierarchy structure, public reputation, and how their different magics impact their world view. For instance, the rigid magic of the Autumn Court means the students are taught to follow rules and protocols strictly. They tend to be bureaucrats and lawyers. However, the Night Court's magic is based on individual will power and obstinance. They tend to have stubborn and personally charismatic leaders with little consistency between regimes. The story has a great deal of mingling between courts and lets characters be informed by learning to thrive in their specific court without being completely defined by it.
  • In The Magicians, third-year students at Brakebills are tested for their magical specialties (commonly known as Disciplines) and sorted into groups based on power categories: healing, knowledge, illusion, nature, and so on. Quentin Coldwater and Alice Quinn are sorted into the Physical Kids - the rarest grouping of all, known for practicing messy, brutal physic-based magic. Each group has their own elaborate dorm room, though they're more like exclusive clubhouses - all of them strictly off-limits to outsiders. Several long-standing rivalries exist between each faction, especially between the Naturals and the Physical Kids; the only point in which the competition between them is put on hold occurs during the Training from Hell at Brakebills South in the Fourth Year.
  • Deslgade, the titular school of The Misfit of Demon King Academy splits its students into pure-demon "nobles" and demon-human hybrids. Their uniforms tell them apart, the former having reds and golds and the latter blues and silvers.
  • The five Houses in The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School (each named after a Shakespeare heroine) are presented as not mixing much, and each having a unique character (defined as scary, sporty, babies, posh, and "red-headed stepchildren", the ones who don't fit anywhere else). We're not told how Houses are assigned to girls who started as Firsts, but when Amy joins the school as a Third, she's put in Desdemona (the red-headed stepchildren) simply because a Desdemona Third has transferred out, and therefore there's a spare bed. Presumably, if she'd been put in one of the other Houses, she'd have been pressured into following the House stereotype. The school is further divided into Unusuals and Ordinaries.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for Laughs in Community, episode "App Development and Condiments". The introduction of a Fictional Social Network quickly causes vicious dystopic social stratification by their rating on said site, and a class war to ensue. The moral? Social Media Is Bad!
  • Satirized in the Netflix high school comedy Daybreak. The show is set After the End, where nuclear war and biological warfare have rendered the Southern California city of Glendale a Teenage Wasteland. The pre-established clique division of the city's high school was so significant that it heavily influenced the formation of the many factions, or "Tribes," that's made up of what's left of the world's youths. For example, if you were an athlete in high school before the Apocalypse, you aligned yourself with the Jocks; if you were a cheerleader, you aligned with the Cheermazons; if you were a gamer, you were with the Game Overs, and so on and so forth.
  • In Kamen Rider Fourze, Gentaro Kisaragi's life goal is to befriend everybody. When he enters high school, he is told it be impossible for him to befriend every student body since they are divided into cliques. By around the 10th episode, he does befriend everybody, subverting the trope.
  • In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Cliques", the Krelboynes end up being split among the general student population after an unauthorized science experiment causes the Krelboyne facilities to be temporarily condemned for decontamination. Various Krelboynes end up joining other cliques, such as the goths, skaters, jocks, and so on until the whole student body is divided against itself because it no longer has the unifying factor of their jealousy/hatred of the Krelboynes to unite them.
  • Downplayed in Veronica Mars. The school, like the rest of Neptune, is divided heavily by social class, with the students of billionaires being favored in almost every circumstance. This was taken further with the school's "Pirate Point" program, which gave athletes and student council members privileges the others were not allowed to have, and when one student ran for president specifically to end this system, she gained a lot of supporters among the lower-class students but was opposed heavily by the richer students and most of the teaching staff.

  • Our Miss Brooks:
    • In "Non-fraternization Policy" (a radio episode), Mr. Conklin is upset that his wife is away from home. So he demands that all male and female faculty members and students at Madison High refrain from talking to one another, except on matters that are strictly due to school business. The order extends to forcing male and female students to eat separately in the school cafeteria.
    • In the television-exclusive season set at Mrs. Nestor's Private Elementary School, a lonely Mrs. Nestor makes the same order. Mr. Conklin, in spite of being hired as principal, is forced to pay a fine for talking to his wife on school property.

  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto takes place at Sapienza University in Pisa in 1491. The students are divided into student groups based on what country they come from, and the French and Spanish groups often fight. This mirrors the political conflict between those countries at the time, a conflict which showed strongly in the affairs of the Catholic Church — and there are quite a few underaged bishops in the university. Angelo, one of the main characters who comes from Florence, breaks these boundaries by becoming friends with the titular Cesare Borgia, leader of the Spain group.

  • Ever After High: Students are divided into two groups, Royal and Rebel. The Royal students are intent on following their individual destinies to keep their stories alive, while the Rebel students are unhappy with their destinies and would rather follow their own path.

    Video Games 
  • In Bully, Bullworth Academy is divided into five main cliques: the Bullies, the Nerds, the Jocks, the Preppies, and the Greasers. Part of the game includes doing sidequests to earn/lose reputation with each of these factions.
  • In Ensemble Stars!, this was enforced by the Absurdly Powerful Student Council during the war, as they scapegoated any other students they were unable to control (especially the 'five oddballs') and rewarded those who helped them. This created a massive power disparity as it was basically impossible for any idol unit not favored by the student council to achieve top ranks in competitions, impacting not only their popularity at school but their later career prospects. Those who were attacked by the student council banded together, and ultimately with their help, Trickstar was able to disrupt the system and massively curtail the student council's power. While during the War the atmosphere at school had been very hostile between different groups, this eased that tension hugely, and afterward, most characters are happy to make friends across old enemy lines.
  • Students in Fire Emblem: Three Houses are divided into the titular three houses depending upon their region of origin: the Black Eagles for the Adrestrian Empire, the Blue Lions for the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Golden Deer for the Leicester Alliance, with each house specialising in certain weapons; the DLC adds the Ashen Wolves, a semi-official house for homeless students. You can recruit students to your house if you meet their requirements or your Support Points are high enough. Once the Time Skip occurs, everyone (with some exceptions) is united under your chosen house (or the Church of Seiros depending on your route).
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has Thors' Military Academy, a military academy that has been around for 200+ years, and has always had segregated classes based on social status. The plot involves the creation of Class VII, the first class in the academy's history to mix nobles and commoners. Besides Class VII, each year has five segregated classes, with three classes for commoners and two classes for nobles. The noble students tend to get a lot of perks that the commoners don't have access to, such as access to a salon and summer vacation.

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in The Owl House. Despite students being divided based on what magic track they're taking (to the point of wearing different colored uniforms), there isn't any social stigma involving inter-track friendships or romances. In fact, it's so common that there are only four intra-track relationships seen in the entire series (including background characters) that don't involve immediate family members. note