As I ‘Stumbled Upon’ websites, I was led to this interesting site: A Class Divided by Frontline. I though it was a lousy, mundane documentary until I clicked and watched how the programme went. A Class Divided is a documentary about an experiment where a school teacher, Jane Elliott, divided her group of third grade students according to ‘eye colour’ in order to let them know about discrimination. Her initiation of starting this practice was actually by a reporting after Martin Lither King’s assassination.
One scene she says that she remembers vividly is that of a reporter, with the microphone pointed toward a local black leader asking “When our leader (John F. Kennedy) was killed several years ago, his widow held us together. Who's going to control your people?” He reports her thinking that it was strange. “After all, wasn’t John F. Kennedy president of black Americans too? Weren’t white Americans outraged at King’s death?”
On the first day, a Tuesday, she started the class by asking whether the student know what’s a Negro. The respond is that Negro is a race who are dumb and can’t hold a job. With this, the exercise initiated. The video showed how Jane Elliott made the blue-eyed superior ones for that day. Brown-eyed students were said to be the out casted ones, by wearing a collar. They were given several rules and restriction such as the activities around the school and cannot play with the superior people because ‘Blue-eyed people are better than the brown-eyed people’. For the second day, the brown-eyed were the superior ones. After the experiment it came out with certain results and the children learned something that they appreciated for the whole of their lives.
For example, after the first day recess time, two children ended up fighting because the blue-eyed called the other one ‘brown eyes’. When the teacher asked what actually happened, the ‘brown-eyed’ said that the other one called him name that he hated – name that he hated in the gut, which turned out to be ‘brown eyes’. From here, we can see that how difference from the majority become such a big impact, even though it is only the eye colour, which doesn’t exist hours before that. Besides, after being asked, the brown-eyed student admit that, hitting back didn’t make him feel better. From here, it can be said that violence didn’t help in the case of discrimination. From this lesson, the children truly experienced first hand, how does it feel like to be the minority, the discriminated party.
It is incredible to see how third grade student can turn nasty in just few minutes that division between people can results in. In one part of the documentary, one of the student said that being the superior ones, gave him the sensation to be a kind, to rule and power. This is why they started to tease to look down on people. This is, again, how discrimination works in society. The study is also used on adults which gets quite a lot of feedbacks. Besides, Jane Elliott mentioned that the students’ result was also affected by their status during the study. The students tends to do better than usual on their superior day and worse than usual on the day when they are the out case, then, they maintain their result better than usual since the experiment. From their analysis, there is something psychology going on. When you are the superior ones, you think you are better, people think you are better and you perform better; when you are not, people says you are bad, and you started to think that as well, and ended up bad. However, after the experiment, the students discovered their better self, and continues on to develop a better character.
Well, I shall say that after the study, the children did felt really what does it feel to be discriminated. During these two days, their soul might be hurt by those words or whatever, but this exercise changed their life and personality, which is not easy to earn. This made me remembered about the Heart and Minds, a documentary made by Peter Davis about the Vietnam War. There’s nothing about clear discrimination, but there is an imbalance in weighing the lives. Just like when General William Westmoreland stated that life in orient is cheap. From here, we can see how people treat the other people differently, according to nationality, colour etc. Americans called themselves Westerners while Asians called themselves Easterners. Why should it be that way? Why shouldn’t everyone be the same? If we were to divide between each other into groups, then in each group, there will only be one individuals, because each of us is unique. Division is man made rather than those geographical features. To bring peace, division has to be wiped off and everyone united as one.
I am quite impressed by such studies but too bad I have something on and can’t have much study about it. However, I would like to say that this kind of study should be supervised since discrimination is not just a normal experiment, it involves the psychology and might affect the children in long term. This is why the study was given negative feedback at first, where people thought ‘it was cruel to experiment on white children’ in which I am quite troubled by the term ‘white children’. I agree that this experiment is quite risky if not practiced properly, but it is quite harsh to determine that it is cruel on ‘white’ children. Rather, as a human, we should propose a sentence such as ‘it is cruel to experiment on children’. Anyway, short of time, got to stop blogging.
1. Frontline: A Class Divided, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/etc/view.html, Accessed on March 13, 2009.
2. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Accessed on March 13, 2009.
3. Hearts And Minds by Peter Davis, referred in GEK1022 lecture and tutorial.