No Child Left Blind

This week, I showed the series of classic clips ‘A Class Divided‘ in my Philosophy & Ethics class. At certain points I paused the clips and asked questions like: Does this sound familiar? Is this you? Anyone you know? And pennies dropped…

I wanted to show that fighting any form of discrimination (in this case racism) is not just a matter of throwing more information and exposing the fallacy of harmful, deeply prejudiced and logically flawed ways of seeing things. It is a matter of bravely ‘touching the soul’ too.

Watch the little kids turn nasty, watch them lose faith in their abilities while others flourish when seemingly better, then ask yourself: Is this what we (are asked to) do, overtly and covertly, in our educational system? Broader society?

Take a few minutes to watch the first two parts of  Jane Elliot’s classic ‘Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes” exercise in its original version with her 3rd grade class and share what I’ve shared with my class today. Jane, thank you!

Sorry dear American friends, I couldn’t resist the calamitous pun.

9 thoughts on “No Child Left Blind”

  1. Thankyou for making this video available to others. The concept of walking in the shoes of another, sadly still rings true in this the 21st century. As I watched this example of a 1960’s classroom I was horrified to realise that we have not come very far since this video was made in the 60’s. The education system I work in still pigeon holes students based on race and belief rather than on ability and actions. Heritage and culture are things I would like my students to be proud of rather than fighting against. My Aboriginal students, my Anglo students, my Moari students, my Asian students, my African students and the many variations in between need a place of safety in the world. A place which sees who they are, rather than what they are. As a teacher I hope that my classroom provides such a place.
    Thanks again for reminding me that we still have a long way to go.

  2. HI,

    I did it in a Year 9 top class 20 years ago and I just went to a reunion with that class a few weeks ago – it came up with several students as being the lesson they remembered.

    On the day it created all sorts of tension ( chaos) and I had to get the kids to go outside and cool off and run around and then debrief.

    cheers MArtin

  3. @Martin

    Thanks for your comment.

    Gutsy! I reckon if you did it these sterile days someone might even sue the pants off you for causing emotional trauma. But as you say, it hangs around.

    Having said that, studies have shown (quoting a good friend whom I talked to today, I go on his word but might actually dig up some links) that the exercise DIDN’T actually change that much in the end. At the end of the day, everyone wanted to ‘come home’ from it. It may have felt bad at the time but overall it did not exactly prevent people from discriminating (again). In addition, the whole thing has become a bit of a ‘corporate exercise’ on a staff PD, one of them ‘fun things to do’ where it probably neither cuts deep nor hangs around for long.

    I am NOT saying the exercise does not have its value but a lot more needs to be done to challenge, fight prejudice than thinking that one such an exercise will magically achieve the desired end. Worthy yes, magic bullet – no.


    Thanks for your comment. As I have said to Martin as well, while worthy to make kids feel empathy and perhaps adjust, realign our own professional practice sometimes, magic bullet it ain’t.

    What was the most interesting part of the story shown in class was the point where the ‘lowly’ blue eyes (2nd take) say to THEMSELVES “I’m dumb because I’m a blue eye.” I jumped at that in class and pointed the self-defeating talk so often happens at our school, while so many other kids, just as smart (or not, cuts both ways) strut around thinking, feeling and indeed ‘achieving’ better. We had a great chat about that with Year 10 class and their views on AEP classes, their own position, people at eg private schools etc.

    Finally, I have to touch the racism angle. I like the exercise a lot but at the same time I recognise its limitations. The biggest drawback of it is its binarity – brown/blue, black/white. This is a quote from my Masters thesis that has etched into in my head for years now and just nails the way in which binarity of positions and views may not be the best way to consider things:

    “It is difficult to convince a working class, white student of the ubiquity of white privilege while he or she is going to school, accumulating debts, working at McDonalds for minimum wage unable to get married because of financial stress and holds little hope of upward socio-economic mobility.” (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1997)

    If everything was simple, the world wouldn’t need teachers would it? 🙂

    Cheers and thanks again to both of you. Appreciated.

  4. Hi -thanks for your reply. The other thing I did to disguise what I was trying to do was favour the brown eyes – it was an interesting mix and way to do it. I sat them on different sides of the room etc… and the blue eyes dominated in number but were discriminated against during the lesson. IT was ahrder to manage becasue of the numbers involved. Interesting to reflect on it 20 years.

    Yes hard to measure if there was change but the fact they remember it must account for something when they come up against discrimination beyond the school gate.

    cheers Martin (@plu)

  5. I watched this film with interest and thought, precisely as you did, that there is no way anything like this will fly in today’s classrooms. But also, wouldn’t it be good just to try a variant thereof?

    I think the root of the problem is that discrimination and making judgements are programmed into the human brain. This is not to say it’s right to do so at all but that these human attributes are practically ‘instinctive’ – a means of survival at some primeval level.

    At their broadest meanings, discrimination and making judgements are desirable and considered higher order thinking. Looking at the list of Board of Studies key words can be proof enough. Information processing requires these, too.

    That said, I hasten to add that there is room for education. Not to reduce this to a nature vs nurture debate but rather look at how, through education, these abilities are understood and applied in the broadest sense. How can we tame this ‘nature’ so it is not used to elevate one’s position at the expense of another?

    Going back to the narrower definition of racial discrimination….

    There are socio-cultural and ethical issues to consider. For example, there are cultures who believe they are better than others – and I’m not just talking about anglo-saxons – and this can have economic benefits. Does this make discrimination right or wrong?

    I personally think it’s wrong from a moral, ethical and spiritual perspective.

    This is what I admired about the teacher. She articulated the need to do something – not just talk about it – and so she did. Activism against social injustices can begin in the classroom.

    SMH has an article on this very topic


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