Monday, 1 July 2013

Documentary: A Class Divided (Jane Elliot's experiment)

Jane Elliot was a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The day following Dr. King’s murder, in an effort to make her young, all-white class understand the issue of racism, she divided the students into “blue-eyed” and “brown-eyed” groups. On the first day, blue-eyed people were superior.  Brown-eyed students went to lunch last, were not allowed second helpings, had five fewer minutes of recess, could not use the drinking fountain (they could use paper cups), and were forced to sit at the back of the classroom. Students of different eye colors were not allowed to play with one another on the playground (brown-eyed students were not allowed on the playground equipment), and throughout the day Elliot made comments about the shortcomings and inferiority of brown-eyed students. The following day, the roles were reversed, with brown-eyed students prized as the superior group.

- The class that took part in the experiment

What she found shocked her. In group work (segregated by eye color), students’ abilities changed from day-to-day depending on their status. On the day in which they were the inferior group, it took the brown-eyed group five and a half minutes to get through a set of flash cards; the following day, as the superior group, it took them two and a half minutes. Equally, if not more, disturbing were the attitudes of the children in the “better” group. “I found what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third-graders in the space of 15 minutes,” she recalled.
She continued conducting the exercise for future classes. In its third year (1970), ABC News profiled the experiment for a documentary called Eye of the Storm. Fifteen years later, in 1985, the TV series Frontline made A Class Divided as a follow-up. In addition to the original footage, it includes a reunion with members of the third-grade class shown in the film, as well as Jane Elliot’s adaptation of the exercise for employees of Iowa’s Department of Corrections. In the years since A Class Divided, Elliot works primarily with adults doing the “blue-eyes/brown-eyes” experiment, albeit in a modified form, as part of workplace diversity training. In it, brown-eyed participants are recruited and encouraged by Elliot to actively participate in the discrimination of their blue-eyed colleagues (while the blue-eyed participants are in another room), and the roles are not reversed.



1 comment:

  1. The results to Jane Elliott's experiment in a short-term, are what she found right after she gave superiority to one of the groups. The kids in the superior group changed their attitude towards their other classmates and their abilities improved. While the inferior group took longer to solve the problems and their attitudes toward the superior group were submissive. In the long-run, she taught them a lesson they will never forget, which is to respect every human being and treat them equally.