Blue and Brown Eyes

Blue and Brown Eyes

Blue And Brown Eyes

Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968. One teacher in a small town in Iowa decided to do something to help her students fathom the shocking event. She understood, more than most, the power of good teaching. Her lesson plan shocked the nation. Jane Elliott divided her elementary school class by eye color — blue eyes and brown eyes. On day one of the lesson, she told the blue-eyed children they were smarter, nicer, neater and better than those with brown eyes. All day that first day, Elliott praised the blue-eyed children and gave them extra privileges.

The brown-eyed children were to wear collars around their necks and their behavior and performance were criticized. On day two of the lesson, the roles were changed. On the second day, the brown-eyed children were made to feel superior and the blue-eyed children were criticized. On both days, the students assigned to the "inferior" group acquired the look and behavior of genuinely inferior students. Their body language was defensive, their former friends tormented them and their academic performance dropped.

The students assigned to the "superior" group, who were kind and tolerant before the experiment, became mean and appeared to enjoy discriminating against the "inferior" group. Their jokes and actions became focused on the "inferior" students. At the end of the experiment, Elliott spent days discussing with her students what it felt like to be one of those labeled "inferior." The kids described their anger and confusion. They talked about their frustration, pain and loneliness as the "superior" students were treated better and given extra privileges.

Almost 40 years later, Elliott's former students are still spreading the knowledge and insight they gained from their experience. Elliott's lesson was repeated, filmed and became a symbol both of what is wrong with our country, and what can be right. Her lesson showed every teacher in every...

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