My Year 11 class are currently writing their reflections about Jane Eliot’s A Class Divided. We have just finished watching the PBS special (first two sections). I have a very multicultural class; most of my students were born here in Australia but their parents, like mine, were not.
For those of you that have never seen Jane Eliot in action with her ‘Blue Eyes Brown Eyes’ social experiments, she divides groups into two based on their eye colour. Brown eyed people become one group and blue eyed people become the other. Jane Eliot ascribes power to one group by diminishing the power and self-esteem of the other group, to highlight how quickly and superficially we judge people of different colour to ourselves.
Her use of this type of social experiment started in 1963 after Martin Luther King Junior’s assassination. She was teaching in an all white community in Ohio and after hearing grown white men use divisive language in the news reports questioned the impact this type of ingrained, often subconscious rhetoric could have on her students who didn’t know any differently, and had no reason to question the white patriachy.
The students were impacted significantly, and amazingly, often within the first few hours adopted the degrading language and mindset of a dominant culture. Eliot’s experiment saw friendships broken and generally cooperative students become selfish very quickly. But more than that, her discussion and debrief with the students ensures that this is a lifelong lesson in discrimination that is learned fast. We all know that people are not born racist; this experiment ensures a more peaceful and fair community.
The ethics of these experiments with children have been questioned; in this case I firmly believe that the end more than justifies the means. If the experiments are conducted by an credible teacher/social scientist.
If you haven’t watched it, watch it. It is worthwhile.
The link is here: