I just saw this thought provoking documentary on pbs frontline, a class divided. What a great show it was. I believe it took place in the 60's. The Scene is Iowa. All white town. A third grade teacher. The event she must deal with , with her class, is the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The problem is how to teach ideas of segregation to third graders. The solution she chose was to try an experiment that was wonderfully done, and something that stuck with these children into adulthood.
The teacher, Jane Elliott, impliments a 3 day experiment with amazing results. She did not consult the principal or the school board, and after the successful trial run the experiment became part of her class curriculum for some time. And get this, no one complained.
So what did she do? On day one of the experiment she splits the class along eye color, blue and brown. Day one she preaches all day about how smart blue eye kids are, they are never late, never get in trouble, while brown eye kids are slower, untrust worthy etc.
The results spoke for themeselves. Brown eye kids scored lower on exams. Blue eye kids began to pick on brown eye kids and the brown eye kids got into a lot of fights. In the words of the teacher, these beautifull children did things she would have never thought possible.
Day two she reversed the roles. She tells the class that she was lying about blue eyes being better, that the truth was brown eye kids are better. You should have seen the kids faces. The blue eye kids going from the elite on day one to the bottom rung on day two freaked, some put there heads down on the desk and cried, some got mad and pounded there desk. And just as with day one, the blue eye kids scores dropped, while the brown eye kids scores rose, dramatically.
On day three she told them about her experiment and they were relieved. But the point the teacher was trying to make was made, brilliantly. The point, was that we have a whole section of our culture, who we are told are criminals, miscriants, drug dealers and addicts, they dont work and take checks from the government, they are the ones always going to jail. Now the easiest answer to this would be to say this group must be trouble makers by nature, by genetics. How could this not be the logical conclusion. Why would a hole section of the population be taken advantage of. Well because it is part of human nature. It was the blacks, and the women, and the irish and german and italian immigrants, the jews, the indians, today its the arabs. As the comedian Carlos Mancia says, 9-11 was a freeing day for the blacks of america.
Why? Because now there was a new group of troublemakers to focus on, to segregate. Carlos says its just part of America, and once the Arabs do their time, we will select a new group and the arabs will be off the hook.
The lesson in Iowa, in this third grade class, jumps at us all. It is very easy for us, as humans to be frightened. We all want to belong to the elite groups, but to have elites we must have the bad group. And the Expirment helped to show that it is easy for us to give up when the world is against us. When humans are constantly told they are lazy, they begin to play the role, when they are told they are criminals they begin to act like criminals. And its hard to understand anothers situation unless you are put in there shoes.
Jane Elliot made sure each one of her third graders walked in the shoes of success and failure, during there stay with her, and they will never forget that. So go now and find this documentary.