How to Make Efficient Tolerant: Reading A Class Divided — Jane Elliott’s Famous Lesson

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On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in april 1968, Jane Elliott’s third-grades from the small, all-white and town of riceville, Lowa, came to class confused and upset. They recently had made king their “hero of the month,” and they couldn’t understand why someone would kill him. So Elliott decoded to teach her class a daring lesson in the meaning of discrimination. She wanted to show her pulpils what discrimination feels like, and what it can do to people.

The blue-eyed children were told they were smarter, nicer , neater , and better than those with brown eyes. throughout the day, Elliott praised them and allowed them privileges such as taking a longer rescess and being first in the lunch line. In contrast, the brown-eyed children had to wear collars around their necks, and their behavior and performance were criticized by Elliot. On the second day, the roles were reversed, and the blue-eyed children were made to feel inferior.

What happened over the course of the unique two-day exercise astonished both students and teacher : On both days, children who were assigned to the inferior group took on the look and behavior of inferior students, performing poorly on tests and other works. In contrast, the “superior” student-student who had been sweet and tolerant before the exercise-became mean-spirited and seemed to like discriminating againts the “inferior” group.

“I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderfull, thoughtfull children turn into nasty, vicous, discriminating little third graders in a space of 15 minutes, says Elliott. She says she realized then that she had “created a microcosm of society in a third-grade clasroom.

Elliott said that after this exercise, when the pain was over and they were all back together, that the kids said they felt like a family and. “They found out how to hurt one another and they found out how it feels to be hurt in that way and they refused to hurt one another in that way again.