Friday, October 7, 2011

Shocking. Stunning. A Must-Watch. "A Class Divided"

This documentary blew me away.

A third grade teacher, Jane Elliot, decided to do a two-day experiment with her students starting in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dividing them up by eye color. The first day, she told them that blue-eyed children are nicer, smarter, and better than the brown-eyed children. The second day, she switched it, saying that she was mistaken, it was actually brown-eyed children who are nicer, smarter and better than the blue-eyed children.

The results (socially, academically, and in self-esteem) are astonishing.

It's 55 minutes long, and so worth it. Click here to get to the free documentary website, and get ready to see the inner workings of prejudice, exposed:

A Class Divided

And once you've seen it, let me know what you think.



Mrs. R said...

I've been shown this before as an example of terrible teaching, what not to do, what will get you fired.

It's interesting to me. The strength of the responses from the students is astounding, and makes a strong statement about the power of social messages. I'm not sure I could keep my cool to pull it off, and I don't know if I'd even want to try, but I think kids learn a valuable lesson from having this demonstrated to them - that the value a society places on your very being deeply affects your self-esteem, your behavior, and your success.

That said, I think that schools (at least the public ones in my area) artificially try to build up students' self-esteem in false ways, instead of starting with the message that each child is valued equally and then giving them concrete accomplishments that they can be proud of. (This is a teacher rant, and doesn't exactly apply to the subject at hand, but I tend to make my case wherever I can, because it needs to be made.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to teach my students (7th and 8th graders, mostly) that all people, no matter what, are precious and valuable. That will go much farther toward their self-esteem than artificial praise the school system so often sets up for students.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks Mrs. R for your comment! I hear you, and I'm not sure I could ever "do" this experiment with children, but the results - and how long-lasting they were - seem remarkable. I was also really surprised that this worked with the adults to such a large extent!

And yes, the lesson that "all people, no matter what, are precious and valuable" is really what I hope students - well, all human beings, really - not just hear, but learn and believe in their hearts.


Jonathon Arntson said...

We were just discussing this experiment, and its impersonators, in my Teaching Diverse Learners class.

I will watch the documentary soon.

maddox said...

I watched this years ago and all I remember is my jaw dropping to the floor. It's amazing how kids can be taught racism, but also how they can be taught to see through it. Thanks for the link.

It also reminds me of the documentary "It's Elementary" where they teach kids about LG(BT) issues and people, back in the early 90's I think. It's wonderful, and makes you cry and despair and hope all at the same time. And there's a follow up where the same kids are interviewed today, although I haven't seen that one.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I've seen it before. And I doubt such an experiment could be done today--there are ethical implications of conducting psychological experiments on people without their consent! But I do remember how powerfully it illustrated the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies when people are told they're lesser for totally arbitrary reasons. And so I'm always very suspicious of studies that claim to "prove" the inherent inferiority of any oppressed group.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this years ago, I think I was in middle school or possibly early high school when I watched it in class. I will watch it again, though I probably won't have time until next week. Seeing it decades ago, I remember being very moved, and thinking that firing that teacher was terribly wrong.

Ben said...

That was riveting! I was worried about the ethical implications of it, too, and seriously doubt it could be done today, but I was absolutely floored by what it brought up. Incredible. How dare I think I know what it feels like to have to push back against all that negative pressure every day when I, as a white male, automatically have people's trust and respect?

Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I'm one of those idealist young adults who really wants to make a difference in the world (dime a dozen, I know), but I'm truly inspired by that teachers courage and conviction. It makes me think we really could change some things around here if we all really wanted to.