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.