Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vaccinating Against Discrimination

Jane Elliot is an internationally renowned educator because of her work to eliminate discrimination. This video outlines her exercise. Basically, she repeatedly demonstrates that one arbitrary group (blue eye or brown eyes) is superior to another. The superior group is provided with perks and benefits, while the inferior group suffers from exclusion and ridicule.

This lesson was developed for her grade 2 class after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Her goal was to allow her students to truly experience racism, if only for a moment. Some of her methods seem cruel, especially for a group of young students - but wouldn't an authentic discriminatory experience need to be cruel?

Her findings were surprising. Obviously, the students being discriminated against felt bad. They got into fights over it, and they felt negative emotions. More disturbing, however, is the fact that most of the "superior" students improved their scores on spelling tests, while the "inferior" students' scores dropped. The implications of this are far-reaching, especially for teachers.

Ms. Elliot eventually takes her show on the road. She performs the same exercise with adults, albeit in a slightly different manner. Adults, she found, tend to quietly accept discrimination so long as they are not the focus of abuse. This also raises an interesting point for educators. Perhaps the best way to eliminate racism is to teach young people how to stand up against it.

My favourite moment in the video is around 17:70, when the students throw away their discriminatory collars. They are happy, not because of any kind of perk or incentive, but because they are free and equal. The look in their eyes reflects a profound sense of joy that the world will no longer separate and hurt them. Perhaps we could all learn a lesson from them.

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