Jane Elliot – A Class Divided

Background

Discrimination has taken many definitions over the years. However it can basically be said to be a representation of prejudicial treatment to a person for membership in a given category or group. It is the relationship that exists between one group to another and the actual manner in which they treat each other.

It mostly involves restriction denial and withholding of opportunities or access to such opportunities to an individual of a certain category. Such preferential treatment need not cause harm to be discrimination. It is enough to give worse treatment to an individual over another for some pertinent arbitrary reason.

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Argument

In 1968, Riceville, Iowa teacher, Jane Elliot, watched in horror as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She was greatly concerned at how discrimination was being perpetrated in society with sheer ignorance of the damage and pain it was causing to the discriminated people. In an attempt at passing the message against discrimination to her 3rd grade students she attempted to give a lesson to sensitize the class on the effect of the vice.

However this was an exercise in futility since like their parents and the society around them they did not understand or have a feel of what discrimination was. In fact some of the children only saw black people on the television. The topic as therefore discussed lightly and with ignorance.

She therefore used a practical example of discrimination in which she separated the class into two groups. The first group was made up of children with blue eyes while the other was made of children with brown eyes. She then proceeded to praise the group of children with blue eyes as against those with brown eyes. The children were made to believe that the children with blue eyes were more superior and were more intelligent and therefore deserved to be treated better.

The children with blue eyes were given advantages and privileges over their brown eyed friends such as more time during breaks and more teacher attention. They were also warned against interacting with their fellow brown eyed class mates and they were not to play with them. The brown eyed students were also made to wear blue scarf’s that would be used to identify and distinguish them from other children.

On the second day, the blue eyed children took their turn and were made to wear the scarfs. Jane Elliot altered the mindset to portray the blue eyed students as lazy and rude. They were also made to suffer lesser privileges such as not going to play as well as a single share of lunch as opposed to going for a second share for those who were not satisfied. The brown eyed students were also given more teacher attention and received more congratulatory remarks form their teacher as opposed to their blue eyed classmates

The response at the end of the two day exercise was exhilarating. The effectiveness of this method in delivering knowledge and affecting the learning process was very good. The children voluntarily condemned the vice of discrimination and gave their feel of the activity. The sense of imprisonment oppression and segregation was deeply felt by the students who when asked to dispose of the blue scarf’s that were used to identify the children who were of a different group choose to tear them up.

This intriguing and aggressive sense of remorse shows how deep discrimination goes in offending the individual or person. The experience as reviewed by the students fourteen years later was a total success in cementing and embedding the principles and values against discrimination. Most of the students grew up to enforce the doctrines and moral of the analogy against discrimination to their wives children friends and fellow members of society. They became bolder at proclaiming their stand against discrimination.

Teaching method used

Jane Elliot employed a marriage between collaborative and participatory teaching methods. She allowed the students to facilitate her teaching process while in the process allowing them to teach and learn from each other. Undeniably other teaching methods such as lecturing and explaining would have had little success at accessing the young mind let alone solidify the knowledge amidst the societal approach to the issue.

The method creates an interactive collaboration between the teacher and the student allowing the class to be more practical and realistic. This goes against the grain of most education systems and methods in the contemporary teaching pretext that are more skewed towards an explanatory method of teaching.

Practicality and reasons thereof

In the modern day information and technology context the method would face certain pertinent challenges that stream from the structural and situational changes that have occurred in the learning environment. For instance, Students learning through electronic methods have little time for the interpersonal interaction with fellow classmates except in instances where it is absolutely necessary. It would therefore be quite difficult to implement the method in a virtual classroom where students are distantly located.

The method would however still work in the rural and most modern learning environment where there the class room set up still exists. It will however require certain pertinent modification in its manner of delivery and execution to involve more modern concepts and analogies within the method.