Jane Elliott's Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes Experiment on Racism

Photo: Charlotte Button

After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, school teacher Jane Elliott wanted to teach her third-grade class about racism. Rather than a lengthy discussion about it, she decided to show the 8-year-olds what racism is all about in a famous "experiment":

With King shot just the day before in Memphis, Elliott encouraged her third-graders to discuss how something so horrible could happen.

"I finally said, 'Do you kids have any idea how it feels to be something other than white in this country?' "

The children shook their heads and said they wanted to learn, so Elliott set the rules. Blue-eyed children must use a cup to drink from the fountain. Blue-eyed children must leave late to lunch and to recess. Blue-eyed children were not to speak to brown-eyed children. Blue-eyed children were troublemakers and slow learners.

Within 15 minutes, Elliott says, she observed her brown-eyed students morph into youthful supremacists and blue-eyed children become uncertain and intimidated.

Brown-eyed children "became domineering and arrogant and judgmental and cool," she says. "And smart! Smart! All of a sudden, disabled readers were reading. I thought, 'This is not possible, this is my imagination.' And I watched bright, blue-eyed kids become stupid and frightened and frustrated and angry and resentful and distrustful. It was absolutely the strangest thing I'd ever experienced."

Corina Knoll of the Los Angeles Times has the story: Link

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She gives people a sample a very small sample of how it feels like to be discriminated against. Her work is amazing and her efforts might reach global success one day in a world of discrimination.
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I think she is a great women for standing for the rights of other races until you are considered colored you have no idea what i feels like to be discriminated against. I know this first hand my husband is African American and I am Hispanic.
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If you are trying to show a group of children about discrimination and you deliberately design set rules for the children to follow, knowing which things would make the children feel uneasy and knowing which things would (punish) children, that have done nothing wrong, how can you then be suprised at the result? Sounds to me as though the teacher needed a lesson more then the children. This did not show anything other then how the abuse of authority can lead to undesired results (sickly enough, this was a desired result and deliberate manipulation.

The use of statistics is well over rated, is poorly delivered and the biggest cause bias and discrimination. Reporting findings as fact is pure wrong.
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Interesting thread. Timm needs to read some history of white supremacy--Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard, for instance. And KidReviewer--or his dad--misses the point. We DO condition children to believe things we adults tell them--that's EXACTLY what Jane Elliott is trying to show. Kalel is absolutely right to bring up the Stanford Prison Experiment. Check it out, folks--the "them" ain't so different from "us."
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Just watched this pbs video with my dad: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/

This was NOT a lesson in how kids will treat each other differently based on eye color, or based on being separated. There may be things to be learned from that simple idea, but this was much different. This was an example of how kids will react when they are told they are inferior/superior by a trustworthy authority figure, someone they are asked to trust the judgement of every day, someone whom they must obey or be spanked at home. She, not the kids, equated the eye color to behaviors. They just reflected what she said. "Boy X is forgetful, what does that tell us about others with his eye color?" Girl X is stupid, etc. That was an experiment in propaganda and mind manipulation, not in being different. The kids were already different, and made no bones about it, had friends with different hair color, eye color, etc. This was an experiment similar to Nazi techniques. Very creepy. She told them they were stupid, and they performed more poorly, it didn't matter if she did it by groups or not. The kids didn't 'infer' any negative attributes, she overtly stated them as fact. Would it be considered acceptable teaching technique to tell kids they were stupid regardless of the eye color setup, and then make a video about how that affected them? That's what she did. The kids would have been happy to be friends across groups, but she forbade it. It's a lesson about the danger of media and public schools, both of which can promote a single approved agenda to every corner. Little else is more powerful than those two organizations in shaping culture.

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