Friday, January 13, 2006
a class divided

It was an interesting prelude to MLK Jr. weekend today... in my Justice & Diversity class, there was a lot of discussion after the class watched clips of Frontline news' "A Class Divided", where in April of 1968, a 3rd grade teacher named Mrs. Elliot (while working at a small school in an Iowa farming town) decided to teach her class a powerful lesson about racism, discrimination, and the politics of power. The book "A Class Divided" goes into more detail about the lesson and the class itself.

She set up the exercise by dividing her class by their eye color (blue-eyed vs brown-eyed) and then proceeded to tell the children about the "new reality" of the class - blue-eyed children would be allowed extra recess, blue-eyed children were smarter and better behaved, and blue-eyed children would be recognized as superior. Brown-eyed children on the otherhand would not be allowed extra recess, they would not be allowed to play with blue-eyed children, they were less intelligence and unruly, they couldn't drink from the water fountain unless they had a cup, and worst of all - brown-eyed children would be required to wear a black collar around their necks to visibly show others their identity as "brown-eyed". This treatment continued for an entire day and then on the next day, the roles were reversed - brown-eyed children became the "superior children", and blue-eyed children were relegated to second class.

The results, all caught on camera, were nothing short of powerful - when a child was placed in the dominant/superior group, their academic performance excelled and their interest in class remained high. When a child was placed in the subordinate/inferior group, the result was dramatic - children became angry, sullen, depressed, and withdrawn... their ability to do schoolwork diminished and they performed poorly. Children began to instantly self-segregate by eye color. Taunting of children in the inferior group was tolerated. Fights broke out on the playground and the entire mood of the class had changed - in just two days, the entire class was rendered easily into two groups.

Most important to the lesson was the time spent by the teacher dialoguing with the students about their first-hand experiences - both in the role of the privileged and the underprivileged. Even at the young age of 3rd grade, the children were remarkably open and direct in what they had learned... one child remarked about wearing the black collar denoting his inferior status, "I felt like a dog on a leash..."

So why would Mrs. Elliot even dare to teach such a provocative lesson? Well, those who know their history know that something fairly significant happened in April of 1968... something terrible that every American should be ashamed of...


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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

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