Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blue eyes, brown eyes: Jane Elliott's exercise in prejudice

Photo used under Creative Commons license.  LINK

 Jane Elliott, a teacher, first tried her blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise with her class in an Iowa school in the 1960s, in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King.  You may have come across mention of it in your teacher training, or after.  While Wikipedia isn't the be-all and end-all of research, it's not a bad source for an outline of what she did, and what happened next (and check the citation list for further links).

Photo used under Creative Commons license.  LINK

This came up at school recently when one of the seniors, from a Society and Culture class studying belief systems and associated -isms was asking me to help her locate information*.  Blue-eyed/brown-eyed came up in the discussion, and while looking for information we came across this 29 page pdf which covers the blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise and after in great useful detail (the Wikipedia article seems likely to have drawn on it, and it's not Stephen G. Bloom's only article on this topic).  Find it here:

Blue-Eyes, Brown-Eyes:
The Experiment that Shocked the Nation
And Turned a Town Against its Most Famous Daughter
By Stephen G. Bloom

Here's an interesting fact from that document:

It was Jane, for instance, who complained to the Crayola Company about its single flesh-color crayon, and today there are ten flesh-color crayons — from ebony to sand. It was Jane who complained to pantyhose companies about nudecolored pantyhose, and today there are dozens of nude shades hosiery companies manufacture.

I have tried a version of this exercise with a senior class, some years ago: not as intensely/intensively as Jane; but it still had a distinct impact on the kids, got them talking and thinking. 

So, a link to share with your History/English/Society and Culture teachers, or any you think might find it useful.  Seemed a waste not to blog it.

The student also went away with a copy of The Wave, by Morton Rhue, a fictionalised version of a similar exercise.  Lots of different ways to approach and consider an idea.



* when we'd finished this discussion, the student remarked that the Pew Internet research site I'd referred her to for an earlier assignment had been just what she needed, so she had come back to me.  Nice to get repeat business from confident customers! - I hadn't remembered that occasion, as we have so many kids here and it's hard to recall every detail of every day's discussions and conversations.  I appreciated knowing.  The happy life of teacher librarians: repeat business from happy customers!

No comments: