A class divided

The film A Class Divided was based on an exercise in discrimination based on eye color with two distinct groups. Children in a third-grade classroom in an all-white, all-Christian community in northeast Iowa; and adult employees of the Iowa state prison system at workshop on human relations.

The video began with a group of former third-graders, now young adults, who are

Gathering for a reunion with their teacher, Ms. Jane Elliott, at the school building in

Iowa. Thirteen years after she had involved them in a two-day lesson in which they were divided into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups and were taught an important lesson on discrimination.

Before the classroom exercise began, third-grade students in the class were asked what they knew about blacks. They expressed —and accepted as common knowledge negative ideas clearly received from the significant adults in their all-white, all-Christian community.  The children had no holdbacks about repeating publicly the too-familiar negative stereotypes. Yet the only minority group members in their environment were those seen on television. This showed that Racial prejudice can exist even in the absence of minority group members.

The teacher told her students that possession of a specific eye color was an indication of inferiority. Students possessing that eye color soon began to act as though the negative traits she attributed to it were real. Children in the “superior” group saw this as proof that her statements were factual.


            This became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the students began acting on their role. When asked to do a simple task, those in the inferior position had great difficulty remembering and following directions. Those in the superior position performed the task easily and eagerly and then mocked the others, accusing them of inferiority because of their eye color.

Some in the superior position sought new and creative ways to hurt the opposite group. The children in the film were manipulated by an authority figure into accepting and basing their behavior on the totally irrational idea that one should evaluate oneself and others by the color of the eyes. After seeing those designated as inferior begin to act in an inferior manner, it became increasingly easy to believe that eye color was in fact the cause, since that was the only real difference between the two groups. Within a very short time, it seemed obvious from the behavior of members of both groups and in the absence of any information to the contrary that the myth was a fact.

This film has led me to believe that racism will not be reduced unless every person can see every other person as an equal; racism (and all other forms of discrimination) will continue to thrive. You can’t force people to think the way you do, even if it’s right; if someone has spent all their lives thinking of another group of people as inferior then they are not about to change their minds at the click of a finger just because all of a sudden those in power tell them to. It has to be a personal choice. At the end of the day we are all the same race, the human race, but it’s going to take a long time for everyone to accept that fact.





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2 responses to “A class divided

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