While I am a white male of middle class background, I could relate to the experience of discrimination as a gay man. I grew up in a conservative religion Mormonism which regularly repeated the mantra that not only were straight people better than gay people, gay people were evil and perverted. This attitude haunted me for years and hindered my growth. At least racists can see when they are attacking the others; gay bigots often unknowlingly spew their bile to they very people they profess to despise.
The blue-eyed/brown eyed lesson has deeper implications than racism, sexism or even homophobia. Prejudging anyone is harmful to both parties, and this simple and effective lesson shows how unfair and difficult it makes life for everyone.
Even though I wasn't able to view the entire program, I was so impressed by Ms. Elliott, i have a couple of rhetorical questions...
Why is Ms. Elliott not in a Cabinet position... and where are all the teachers today like her, that I had in grade school???
My grandmother was a white principal of a minority segregated California elementary school in the 1960s.
When she got there, the school had the worst of everything, including test scores. To be assigned to work there was considered punishment. Morale was horrible. She and a hand-picked group of dedicated teachers fought to convince the parents, the community, and the students themselves that they were every bit as capable and worthwhile as the white kids.
They responded. When the school was closed due to desegregation several years later, it was one of the best-performing, best-disciplined, best-parent supported schools in town.
My grandmother taught me what Jane Elliott's work proves - that people respond pretty much according to what is expected of them.
I enjoyed watching the program last night about Jane Elliott. I am so happy that PBS chose to air it and that I did not miss it.
I am a African-American Public school teacher and I found it amazing how she navagated her classroom students to feel the effects of discrimination. Being in my early 30's I have only felt the suttle effects of discrimination. I think that her program is still needed in some areas and it should be used as a training tool for new and seasoned educational professionals. What a difference she has made in the lives of those students who were under her direction and what a difference PBS has made by airing her findings.
I want to thank Front line, and Mrs Elloit in particular, for her courageous efforts to present to a nation the shame that most Americans have bought into. That of being intolerante of some one who does not look, sound,or behave the way "We" think they should.
Two of my grandchildren are of mixed race.I have found my self in the position of trying to explain to my grandson; why some people where we live, & he is visiting, that he thinks are staring at him.
We are not living in a large city,it is a "small" community, and when I tell him they are staring, because they have never seen such a handsome young man, I am being sincere with my thoughts, but attempting to shield him, from those who can cause him harm.
I too stumbled upon this program last night and was instantly transfixed. I was very suprised to learn that my own children, now teensagers, had participated in this exercise when they were in third grade. If I had been notified at the time, I would have been able to followup at home.
Nontheless I am thrilled that my children had this experience. It's about time we have values education in our public schools. Jane Elliot was far ahead of her time in this respect.
I hope to use this video in teaching Transcultural Nursing in the future.
I just happened to come across the broadcast of ďA Class DividedĒ yesterday evening, and after about fie minutes; I knew that the program should be aired on every major network in the world. Government and industry alike should adopt the teaching approach used by Ms. Elliot to convey the shame of racism and discrimination.
Her methods were somewhat harsh, but I do believe that the children experienced the unnecessary pain of discrimination and having experienced it are less likely to perpetuate it.
A job well done! Keep up the good work PBS.
Thank you Frontline and PBS. I had heard of this study before, but had never had the opportunity to see it.
I would like to coment on letterwriter Mr Raynor and his concerns, though.
As a child raised in west Texas, MLK, Jr was an often berated and criticized man in my community. Relatives and friends did not seem to think it was a big deal that he was assassinated. Those same friends and relatives continued their "experiment" on us for decades. It is unfortunate that it took a white woman to convey the heart of the message that Rev. King was trying to get across, but she did it well. Perhaps you failed to see how very grateful those children, as grown-ups, were to her.
Yes, it was painful to watch, but I must tell you that I sat in classrooms where children of color wee forced to sit away from "us." They were ridiculed in front of "us." As a 42 year-old woman, those memories are far more painful that the exercise performed in that Iowa classroom. God bless her.
This was a very powerful program. The aspect that most intrigued me though was the performance level of the children once told they were smarter or dumber by the teacher. To me this has implications for education today that goes well beyond discrimination.
If teachers impart a feeling of low expectations toward any group of children black, white, red, yellow, high social economic status or low then you would expect the performance of those children to be lower. The show dramatically showed low expectations leads to low performance. This aspect should be emphasized more. It too is a form of bigotry that needs to be eliminated for all. Expect the best.
The most surprising thing about Jane Elliot's experiment was the era in which it occured. I noted that some viewers were concerned about the chilren's rights having been violated. What a small price to pay for a more tolerant America. Are these same viewers as concerned about minorities' rights. Bless you, Mrs. Elliot.
I think Frontline missed the Big Picture regarding Ms. Elliot's actions, which were essentially to presume to take it upon herself to infuse children with her own values in lieu of those of the parents, which is representative of the typical values of 20th century socialism, in which the state essentially became the parent.
Among all the praise for Ms. Elliot's decision to "play God," one thing I haven't heard discussed was the rights of the children and the ethical boundaries which Ms. Elliot arrogantly breached in her self-appointed decision, or whether she had bothered to even consult the parents of these children, let alone to use them as human guinea pigs in this type of experiment, or to "teach them a lesson."
Likewise, one must question the morality of taking advantage of these children's youth and helplessness for such purposes in order to force this experiment upon them, essentially constituting a breach of good faith in the name of some "higher purpose" which has justified such violations throughout history.
Jane Elliot's attitude likewise displayed more arrogance and authoritarian presumption than any merit, epitomizing the problem with the public school system via a teacher unilaterally taking the law into her own hands to decide to perform impromptu psychological experiments on children, justifed in her own mind by her self-appointed crusade to "save the world." In a sense, this places her no better than the 20th century socialists who performed similar experiments and brainwashing tactics on captive subjects, in order to essentially replace the parent due to state disapproval of parental values.
West Bloomfield, Michigan
I thought the program was great. I grew up on an Indian Reservation in central Montana. The school system consisted of 80% Indian students and 20% white and about 99% of the teachers, school administrators and board members were white.
I wish that some of those teachers,administrators, board members and students would have been exposed to this workshop on racism.I know that many,many,many Indian students over many generations have had to go through, what call institutional racism. People wonder why there so many drop outs, teen pregnaceys, drugs, alcohol and many other vices. Worst of all is the rate of Indians that goes on to colleges from my school is just too low.
I hope that this program will be available to my old school and many other schools.
Las Vegas, Nevada
When I was an elementary student in the early '70s, my very forward-thinking teachers in Riverside, California performed this same experiment in my classroom. Of all my school experiences, this is no doubt the one that left the most indelible mark.
My family was probably typical of the time: not openly racist, but revealing in a thousand small ways a deepseated distrust and contempt of most non-white races. Counteracting that subtle prejudice to a large degree was my experience in the classroom. It is important to stress that the two-day experiment modelled on Elliott's prototype would probably not have been enough, in and of itself, to offset the attitudes I was exposed to so often at home. I see those two days more as a symbolic summing-up of all that had been emphasized in my class all along, on a daily basis. To be honest, I disliked my day as a "superior" person more than my day as an "inferior" one. As I think about this odd reaction in retrospect, I attribute it to the fact that by the time I went through the experiment my teachers had already developed in me--through the kind of thinking they modelled day-in, day-out, throughout the school year--a sense of the wrongness of prejudice. Undeserved privilege did not sit well with me, and I took no pleasure in seeing my friends or even my enemies treated unfairly.
Stumbling upon your program last night, I was instantly transfixed. I have often thought of my teacher, Jo Lantz, and of the seeds she sowed so many years ago. Now I know where they came from.
I became a DIVERSITY trainer as part of my job at Norwest Bank. The Brown eyes/Blue eyes tape was used.. I watched it over and over and my respect for Jane's insight grew each time. I have told somany people about her ideas and the impact of the film but always wished more people could see it.
today, as usual, I woke at the crack of dawn and as I flipped thru the channels looking for a news show, her familiar voice stopped me in my tracks.. it was like finding an old friend.. thank you so much for showing A CLASS DIVIDED.. at this time in our world,
what an outstanding show, one of the best frontline's I have ever seen.
I missed the begining and was quite distressed at what i thought i was seeing, an adult teaching grade school children to be racists. As the show progressed I began to see what she was doing. wow. a lession we could all use. Thank you. This is a show i will never forget.
san diego, ca
home : one friday in april, 1968 : an unfinished crusade : frequently asked questions : readings & links
FRONTLINE : wgbh : pbsi
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation