PARENTS, this one’s important.
As I was researching another topic, I came across the story of Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade teacher, and an amazing lesson that she led students through after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Odds are this lesson would not be permitted these days due to the childrens’ age and the negative feelings that occurred throughout the course of a school day. Yet, supporters believe that the lesson taught empathy and had a considerable impact on the academic abilities of the children involved.
A Lesson of a Lifetime
After King’s assassination, Elliott divided the class based on eye color. The blue-eyed students wore a fabric band (referred to as collar) around their neck so that it was easy to identify them as different, while the brown-eyed students did not. Ms. Elliott explained that brown eyed students were smarter and superior and provided restrictions to the blue-eyed students. Soon after, the brown eyed students started demeaning the other students and a punch was thrown during recess.
The next day, Ms. Elliott explained to the students that she had made a mistake. That, in fact, the brown eyed students were inferior to the blue-eyed students. Surprisingly, the previously tormented blue-eyed students exhibited similar aggressions to their tormenters from the day before even though they had experienced the pain and anguish the day before.
But the REALLY interesting thing is this….
Ms. Elliott timed students learning prior to the lesson, again during the lesson (on both days), and afterwards. And what she found was this:
- Students test scores went up when they were told they’re at “the top”
- Students’ test scores went down when they were told they were at “the bottom”
- Students that went through the exercise maintained higher scores for the rest of the year.
According to an interview with Ms. Elliott, Stanford University examined the scores and said, “what’s happening here is kids’ academic ability is changing within a 24-hour period. And that isn’t possible. But it’s happening. Suddenly they’re finding out what they can do…”
“What’s happening here is kids’ academic ability is changing within a 24-hour period. And that isn’t possible. But it’s happening. Suddenly they’re finding out what they can do…”
In the video below, you’ll see students able to complete a task in 2 minutes after being labeled at “the top” as opposed to 5 minutes when they were labeled at the “bottom.” In 24 hours, children’ academic abilities increased or decreased based on how they were labeled by their teacher.
Must See TV for Good
Record one of your shows and watch this instead for a valuable lesson on the influence teachers and coaches have on our kids. Then, think about the things you say and how they may have an impact.
Not everybody agreed….
While the Frontline episode paints the experiment in a positive light, it was controversial at the time. Some parents were not informed of the experiment and felt that their children should not have been put in a position where they could demeaned or discriminated again. For insights about what her peers thought at the time, read this article.
The most important take aways!
It’s unlikely this lesson will be used in classrooms now. But there are two strong lessons that parents should learn:
- Empathy is important.
People are different. We all have different likes and dislikes and different opinions. It’s important to try to understand where someone else is coming from, or how they feel. When I was a kid, these were just a few of the messages that I heard from my teachers and parents:
“Somebody’s yuck is somebody’s yum”
“You can’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”
” Sometimes what people show is different than how they feel”
” You don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors”
“There are two sides to every story”
“Just because everyone says something, doesn’t make it right – or true”
“Don’t pile on”
“You have to stick up for people that are less fortunate”
“Don’t take sides”
These are all important lessons, especially now with all of the bullying and mobbing that is going on at schools and in the workplace. We must do better.
2. Water a plant and it will bloom. Burn a plant and it will shrivel.
As adults, we have a choice. We can use our super powers, we can stay on the sidelines, or we can be the villain. We can make kids grow and we can make kids shrink. Or we can watch others and criticize instead of contributing to a solution. Remember that kids make mistakes — and that’s okay. Through experimentation and trying new things, kids gain confidence to explore, come up with new ideas, and try more. Cut off creativity and “mistakes” and children become robotic and fearful.
Choose to use your super powers.
A Class Divided