Monday, January 20, 2020

Same or Different?

Are you familiar with former teacher, Jane Elliott, born in 1933?  

In 1968 she taught third grade. The day after Dr. Martin Luther King, JR's assassination she did a bold race experiment with her students in Riceville, Iowa.

She told the class that the more melanin one has, the darker their eye and skin color. Those with dark eyes, she claimed, were smarter. Brown-eyed students were given longer lunch period and recess that day.

She witnessed immediate results. The children with brown eyes became instantly confident and condescending to their blue/green-eyed classmates. Those with brown eyes were allowed to drink from the water fountain. The others had to use paper cups.

Mrs. Elliott concluded her experiment by asking her seated pupils to stand--- first those who were of the white race, then those who were black, brown, red, yellow etc. and to remain standing. She asked anyone from the human race to sit down. Every student sat.

Jane Elliott went on to provide many valuable lessons on racism and prejudice, and how it affects others. She made an impact, offended many, and enlightened many. Jane Elliott made a difference in 3rd grade and also later on when she taught 7-8th grade.

                   I was known as Miss Linda.

I taught preschoolers for four decades and school-age students for 16 of those summers. 

I decided to incorporate Jane Elliott's activity into my preK curriculum. We made a classroom graph for eye colors. I helped the students print names and sign in the appropriate columns. We counted and talked about the concepts: more, less, fewer, and other pre-math terms.

Then I told the children that the blue-eyed kids were better than the brown-eyed kids. They would get snack. The brown eyed kids protested loudly. 

"Hey, that's not fair!"

I said, "Sorry. Then the brown eyed children can have snack, but not the blue-eyed."

The browns cheered, "YES!"

The blues complained, "What about us?"

"Yeah, let me think some more. Do you think if you have brown eyes you are the best?" 

Some looked at me wanting to say YES, some said NO. Many didn't know.

I explained we all have eyes, and eyes see, no matter what color they are. Maybe we should decide by who has dark hair or light hair?

The pre-kindergarteners were undecided.

I said, "Okay, then what about skin color? If your skin is brown you win. If it is light, you lose."

A chorus of voices raised, "That is NOT fair!"

I agreed and quietly explained that people are just people, not better or worse because of skin, eye, or hair color. Bad or good describes behavior based on how we treat others. We are all deserving of kindness, snack, recess, and inclusion.

I did a comparison later in the week. I chose an African-American student and a Caucasian student. They stood in front of the class and we listed attributes about each child.

My students listed height, gender, clothing, shoes, curly/straight hair.

I explained, in some ways they were both different, and in many ways they were alike. They both had eyes, noses, mouths to eat with and talk nicely to one another. They both had hands to help, legs to run, bodies that work the same way, etc.

I hung the list in the hall for parents to see.

Guess what? Not one child mentioned skin color. They had learned that skin color is not important. How you behave and treat others is the most important thing in any situation, any where you are, in school at home, or away from home.

My four and five year old students understood. They got it!

I did comparisons all the time in class between two or more objects. I tried my best to first list the things that were ALIKE and then what was different. Good lesson to practice at home.

Why do adults still struggle with color, class, gender, religion... bias prejudice?

I wish you peace.  Pass on a smile today. Won't you?  


Sandi said...

That was a powerful experiment -- Yours too!

I think if someone did this today they would be fired... 🙁 We have gone backwards.

Jennifer Brown Banks said...


What an informative and enlightening post. It's one of my favorites from you. Thanks so much for shedding the "light" today.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--I've read about that study before. It's a powerful one.

Yes, racism is learned. Prejudice is learned.

Pat Wahler said...

A wonderful way to teach an important concept.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

Maybe we should all just go back to that innocent time and see everything through those eyes not yet clouded with the opinions of others!

Connie said...

Wonderful activities. Wishing you peace as well.

Kim Lehnhoff said...

Parents need to participate in the lesson with their children. Let them see how the children are "color blind". Maybe they can learn from the wisdom of the young.

Bobby Barbara Smith said...

Very powerful. You made a difference in those children's lives. How great that must feel. Every child should be blessed with a teacher like you.

DUTA said...

That's definitely the right kind of education kids should get. Hopefully, when they grow up they'll be able to ignore things like skin color and refer equally to people.

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