Jane Elliots Classroom Experiment

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Jane Elliots brave anti-segregation experiment that conducted on her third-graders in the primary school of Riceville, Iowa, is a mind-opening experience that should be embraced by all schools and other educational institutions. Elliot, astonished with M.L. Kings assassination, taught her pupils a lesson that changed their life and attitude to discrimination and prejudice. Being all-white homogenous little town, Riceville gave the children little opportunities to see what racial segregation meant. Elliot presented her students with a unique opportunity to experience the hard way what it is like to be discriminated against.

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Elliot divided her class according to the color of the childrens eyes. The first day she told them that the children with blue eyes like herself were superior and therefore could enjoy additional privileges like returning from the breaks later, using the drinking fountain and so on. She also forbade the children with blue eyes to talk to and play with the brown-eyed children and had the blue-eyed children put a special scarf around the brown-eyed childrens necks so that they could be recognized from the distance. Elliot found seemingly logical evidence about blue-eyed children being better, having greater skills and talents and higher academic performance. The change in children was immediate and drastic. The blue-eyed children who seemed bright, kind and open-minded before the experiment suddenly showed sadistic and mean tendencies. At first they looked incredulous and reluctant to accept the fact they were for some reason better than the rest of the class but soon accepted the role. They obviously delighted in being superior people and did not lose the chance to demonstrate it with their contented grins and giggles. They would also use the words brown eyes as an insulting nickname for the assumedly inferior children. During the break when all the children played outdoors, the viewers could observe a brown-eyed girl standing alone and sad by the wall. She could not play with her blue-eyed friends and it obviously made her feel miserable. 14 years later when these brown-eyed children were able to put their experience into words properly, they said that they felt really terrible and powerless and they would not like anyone to be part of they had to go through. Elliot asserts that she created a microcosm of a society in her classroom. The results of the experiment were astounding. The children who were claimed to be inferior showed significantly poorer grades than usual while the superior ones, on the other hand, improved their academic performance. However, when Elliot told the children that she lied to them and the truth was that brown-eyed people were superior and therefore should enjoy all the benefits instead of blue-eyed children, the situation repeated itself. Only this time it took children much less time to embrace their new roles. The blue-eyed children now had the scarves and did worse at tests. What is more interesting, general academic performance of the whole class improved greatly after Elliot finished the experiment and elicited from children that people could and should be judged neither by the color of their eyes nor by the color of their skin. Eliot emphasized that only what is inside matters.

After the experiment Elliot got such positive feedback from her class that she decided to repeat the experiment with her new class and later with correctional institution personnel. All the participants of the experiment confirmed that they felt terrible being powerless and without the right to stand up to protect themselves. After the experiment was over the participants felt they became better persons and could place themselves in other persons shoes. The children also noted that it was great to be back together again. It seems that those who participated in this kind of project are not likely to be ever involved in any discriminatory practices.

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