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A Class Divided

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2/2018   B


Psychology: A Discussion of Equity,

Solving Problems,and Recognizing/Respecting Diverse Cultures

In 1968, a third grade class in Riceville, Iowa learned a unique lesson in discrimination they would never forget.  Their teacher Jane Elliot began to fervently explore the originsof prejudice and the realities of discrimination after the assassination of civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To personalize the devastating effects of bigotry for her students, she divided her class according to eye color (blue eyes and brown eyes) for a 2 day exercise on discrimination.  By the end of the exercise, Elliott debriefed all the children and asked them to describe how prejudice felt and what they had learned. The children experienced the first hand the demoralizing effects of discrimination.  They now truly understood on an emotional level that neither eye color, skin color nor any other external characteristic is an appropriate criteria for judging people. View the video and respond to the critical thinking and reflection questions. Click on the link below to view the PBS video.


“A Class Divided”

Only the first half of the video is required for the assignment (view up to the end of the reunion segment). The required segment ends with Jane Elliott’s interview with PBS after the evaluation of her children’s grades by the Stanford

University Psychology department. This part of the film runs about 28 minutes. You may stop the video at the point when it says “the film made of Jane Elliott’s third graders in 1970 has been widely used with students and teachers…. The remaining part of the film is also powerful but optional (when inmates in the Greenhaven Correctional Facility view and discuss the video of Jane Elliot’s exercise in their sociology class.)

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Directions to Students:

View the Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes (A Class Divided) experiment in prejudice. See the experiment in action through the PBS clip. Watch the 3rd graders go through the 2 day exercise and watch the debriefing of the participants 14 years later.


Written Assignment.
 Preview these questions prior to viewing the documentary and then after watching the film formulate your responses to the following questions:


CT1As verified by the Stanford University Psychology Department,after they had been through the 2 day exercise all of the children performed at a higher academic level and maintained that higher level throughout the year.  Elliot states that the children“began to realize their potentialand were suddenly finding out how really great really are”. Interpret the meaning of Elliott’s statement.


CT2When Jane Elliott gathered and debriefed her third graders at the end of the original two day exercise, what comments did the children make concerning what they had learned from the exercise? Comment on specific words the children used and interpret the feelings behind the body language they demonstrated as third graders.

C/CTAs adults who attended the reunion, what comments were made to Jane Elliott about the exercise and how would you interpret their comments in light of the benefits of the exercise?

ER/SRNotice about how quickly the children fell into their assigned roles. What does this say about the ease of learning to become prejudice?

CT/ER Can you cite parallels in today’s society with the attitudes and behaviors of the participants during Jane Elliot’s unique lesson in discrimination

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