Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: Jane Elliot's Human Experiment
Meet Mrs. Janet Elliott
Some years ago, I had the chance to watch this short documentary about Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes. The concept was created by Mrs. Janet Elliott, a public school teacher who, in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King decided to give a special lesson to her students.
Mrs. Elliott taught in a school during segregation. Her students were all white.
The first day of her two day lesson, she exalted how blue-eyed people were better than brown-eyed people. The expressions on the little ones, their faces in disbelief...
Mrs. Elliott proceeded to rationalize why blue-eyed people are better that brown-eyed people.
"What color are my eyes?", she answered. Her eyes are blue. Students started buying in.
Later, in an interview, she admits how amazed she was as to how fast she was able to change the culture in the classroom. She, as teacher, indeed had a great power, for she owned the information.
Information is formation. She transformed these students minutes before lunchtime.
"They went from being angels, to being little devils," she remembered.
Why would she do something like this?
What was the lesson Mrs Elliott wanted to teach her second grade students?
It was a lesson on racism and prejudice.
Mrs. Elliott is not a black woman. She is a human being that, as soon as she heard of "The King" being dead, decided to do something.
"It was time to send a message," she stated.
So she sent this message through her students. That first day, some of her students sure went home blissfully happy, filled with joy, because they just realized they were better than the student next to them.
Even though that very morning they were best of friends. Now it was all about being better because my eyes are blue and yours are not.
Second day: who's the best one now?
The second day Mrs. Elliott inverted the script. The second day the brown-eyed people were the better people.
They were smarter and faster. Now is time to watch how the blue-eyed young faces start losing some color.
Mrs. Elliott successfully twists the mind of her students to make them think that, of course, brown-eyed people are better.
Oh, on the previous day she had the brown-eyed people wear a collar... sort of like Hitler when trying to identify the Jews... or when sometime in history blacks were marked like beasts.
Now it was the blue-eyed students turn to wear that symbol of disgrace. The brown-eyed students get to put it around their now inferior counterparts.
I am going through the details of this production jewel because oftentimes one would think twice about clicking play on a video. I am taking my time in relating all of this to let you know this click is worth it.
A lecture in diversity
Mrs. Elliott demonstrated that it really doesn't matter what is the source for discrimination. Something as simple as the color of one's eyes. We should be thinking the same in regards to the color of one's skin... or the religion... or the gender... By the way, I just love her silver crown.
She is now a well-known lecturer in matters of diversity, as well as recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education.
Below is a link to the video when she first performed the experiment. Unbelievably enough underneath is another modern version where she administers the lesson to adults. Maturity has nothing to do with age -and racism isn't going anywhere.