A Class Divided

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Thirty years ago Jane Elliott taught the third grade in the white, Christian community of Riceville, Iowa. The day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed she planned an exercise that wouldn't just show her students what racism is - rather, it would give them first-hand experience of what it felt like to be oppressed for something out of their control.

Elliott divided her class by the color of their eyes, marked them with armbands and proceeded to treat one group as if superior in capabilities to the other. The superior students performed better than they ever had before, while the inferior students' performance dropped. The next day, the third graders traded ranks and their performance reversed in accordance to their groups' status.

What did the children learn? How did the experience affect them later in life? Clips from her original classes and interviews with former students confirm that Jane Elliott's workshops make them permanently more empathetic and sensitive to the problem of racism.

Sandy is the one who said, when we did our reunion five years after they graduated from high school - I asked Sandy whether, having had this exercise when she was in third grade, had changed her life at all. She is the one who said "Yeah, now when I hear one of those bigoted remarks, I wish I had one of those collars in my pocket and I could take it out and I could put it around that person's neck and I could say: Now, you wear that for two weeks and see how you'd like to live that way for a lifetime." Rex is the one who said "I have that collar in my pocket for the rest of my life, I can't get that collar out of my pocket". (INTERVIEW WITH JANE ELLIOT) http://www.newsreel.org/transcri/essenblue.htm

The children learned that discrimination has a tangible affect on their performance in everyday activities. Elliott has gone on to do the exercise with numerous adults and almost without exception the participants' abilities, such as...
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