A Class Divided


A Class Divided is a documentary about an exercise invented in 1968 by Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa. The night Martin Luther King was assassinated, Elliott decided to teach her eight-year-old students a more concrete lesson about discrimination; so she divided the class by eye colour and began to treat the blues differently from the browns. This video documents the whole thing- from the exercise itself to the children’s reactions the next day and a decade later- and even follows Elliott into a prison to perform the same exercise on adult prison guards.

The exercise is harsh and at times heartbreaking. Mrs. Elliott teaches and enforces the discrimination with a rapid-fire sharpness that reminds me of Stephen Colbert, and the camera catches moments of cruelty and vulnerability from the subjects. Being a member of the “bad” group has a profound effect on the confidence of children and adults alike, and it even has a negative impact on the participants’ scores in academic tests.

It’s also worth considering how ethical it is to treat children like this- and if the fact that society already does treat some children like this makes it acceptable to do the exercise with other kids.

This is a fantastic and thought-provoking documentary. Five-part link will play continuously, for a total running time of about an hour, at this link.


5 Responses to A Class Divided

  1. huggpress says:

    This is a fascinating subject. I am interested but a bit nervous about watching the whole thing – it upsets me so. I remember seeing an Oprah once (why, I have no idea) a while ago when she did the same thing with her studio audience and the reactions were much the same. Monkeys we are, But harmful monkey behavior we should at least try to rise above.

  2. megan says:

    I remember seeing that years ago, possibly in high school.

    I don’t think it would be accepted as an experiment in this day and age. The teacher would be met with outrage from parents and would likely face disciplinary action.

    If it were a psychologist doing the experiment, they’d never get ethical clearance to do with with kids. They’d get ethical clearance to do it with consenting fully informed adults though.

    It’s like that famous experiment by that famous person who’s name I can’t remember, the one where he had people electrocute other people, remember that one? Who the hell was that?!?!?! Anyway, it would NEVER pass ethical guidelines these days.

  3. stamperoo says:

    Milgram. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    Yeah, I know.

    But the fact is that kids who are members of mistrusted minority groups are often treated like that anyway. Not quite so explicitly nowadays, but tacitly for sure. I’ve seen cops, security guards, teachers, bus drivers, etc- authority figures of all types- go out of their way to humiliate or ignore minority-group children and youth. They tacitly show those out-group people that they are not as good as everybody else and do not deserve nurturing, respectful attention.

    The experiment is being done on a whole generation of kids as we speak, and nobody’s all that outraged about it.

    Watch this video: little black kids asked to choose “which is the nice doll, the white or the black?” These black children have been told for their entire lives, tacitly and explicitly, that they are not good enough. And look at the heartbreaking outcome (you can start at timecode 3:18 in this video):


  4. Anonymous says:

    this documantry sux

  5. Okay here are the details. I want to add a new button to firefox, the purpose of that button is that when i type something in the address bar in firefox and click that button in navigation toolbar, that must serve the purpose of “I am feeling lucky button on google homepage”. Any super genius here?.

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