Why Do We Discriminate: Jane Elliott Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed Training

Why do people discriminate? Do we challenge our own beliefs? Let’s find out more about Jane Elliott the controversial US educator. Do you live in a country where there is a dominant culture and those who are seen as less or not your nationality? There is no pure race, we are all shaped by nature but in truth we are the one people and the one civilisation. The perception of nationality has been used to divide for eons and is simply people grouping together as they feel similar and comfortable. Other cultures take us out of our comfort zone as they may see and believe differently. Rather than divide off why not seek to understand what it is like to be them? I remember having an Afghan partner and I ended up being with Afghans. Now the women all serve and I did have issues with that as an independent Australian woman, but I chose to walk in their shoes and observe. They were Muslim and I wasn’t, so they just prayed and respected I didn’t. I didn’t sit in judgement and ended up making friends with people understanding the saying ‘Same Same but Different’ as quoted in Thailand. Imagine if we had no national identity just people exploring the world and living where they feel happiest.

Below is a YouTube original version of Jane Elliot’s approach. This should be mandatory in every classroom across the world. For whenever we feel superior or someone makes us feel inferior you can be sure discrimination is there and beyond that is fear of difference. Face what you fear or experience what it is like and you will come to understand unity. Refer YouTube below and an overview of Jane Elliott by Wikipedia.

Refer https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=jane+elliot+original+blue+eyed+series&&view=detail&mid=B3EE401775E53E07A8FBB3EE401775E53E07A8FB&&FORM=VRDGAR

Jane Elliott's Blue Eyes Brown Eyes from allaboutcom on Vimeo.

This video has been removed, interesting…. She has done a video on Donald Trump https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8ujUq3wk6U

Discrimination is an illusion in the sense that people divide on the basis of fear, the other is only an ‘other’ given the one observing is identifying with their ego and seeking to attack another.  It is akin to bullying those perceived different or somehow vulnerable.  I am learning deeply about why people bully.  Children will never learn this through a program, they can only learn through experiential learning. Jane Elliott and many other teachers understand how important face to face education is.  

Jane Elliott was an inspired educator in the United States who created the Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed training first in schools and then later with adults. The idea was to help people see their own discrimination. In my REAL HOPE program I also taught as a clown her method by dividing my class by eye colour and saying to children only blue eyed children could be clowns. I then played Chinese Whispers with these children and excluded the Brown Eyed children, then we debriefed about how it felt to be discriminated against and how we over come this. The key thinking here is how we can include all people and embrace diversity as something that is wonderfully unique rather than something to fear.

So here is some information about this very interesting woman from Wikipedea.

Jane Elliott (born 1933, Riceville, Iowa)[1] is an American teacher and anti-racism activist. She created the famous “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” exercise, first done with grade school children in the 1960s, and which later became the basis for her career in diversity training.[2]

Origin of the Idea

While there are variations of the story, the exercise Elliott developed for her third grade class in Riceville, Iowa was a result of Martin Luther King’s assassination. According to one biographer, on the evening of April 4, 1968, Jane Elliott turned on her television to find out about the assassination. One scene she says that she remembers vividly is that of a (white) reporter, with the microphone pointed toward a local black leader asking “When our leader (John F. Kennedy) was killed several years ago, his widow held us together. Who’s going to control your people?” It was supposedly there, in her living room, that she decided to combine a lesson she had planned about Native Americans with the lesson done about King for February’s Hero of the Month. To tie the two, she would use the saying “Oh Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”[2]

The following day she had a class discussion about it and about racism in general. But she states “And I could see that they weren’t internalizing a thing. They were doing what White people do. When White people sit down to discuss racism what they are experiencing is shared ignorance.” She states her lesson plan for that day was to learn the Sioux prayer about not judging someone without walking in his/her moccasins and “I treated them as we treat Hispanics, Chicanos, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, women, people with disabilities.”[citation needed]

The original inspiration for the exercise came from the novel Mila 18 by Leon Uris, published in 1961, about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during World War II.One of the ways they decided who went into the gas chamber, according to the novel and history, was eye color.

Because most of her 8-year-old students had, like Jane, been born and were being raised in a small town in Iowa and had seen people of color only on television, she felt that simply talking about racism would not allow her all-white class to fully comprehend racism’s meaning and effects.[2]

Steven Armstrong was the first child to arrive in Elliott’s classroom on that day, asking why “that King” (referring to Martin Luther King Jr.) was murdered the day before. After the rest of the class arrived, Elliott asked them what the children knew about blacks. The children responded with various racial stereotypes such as Negros were unintelligent or could not hold jobs. She then asked these children if they would like to try an exercise to help them to find out something about what it was like to be treated the way a Negro child is treated in this country. The children enthusiastically agreed to try the exercise.[2]

On that day, she designated the brown-eyed children as the superior group, giving them extra privileges like second helpings at lunch, access to the new jungle gym and five extra minutes at recess.[2] She would not allow brown-eyed and blue-eyed children to drink from the same water fountain. The brown-eyed children sat in the front of the room, the blue-eyed children were sent to the back. The brown-eyed children were encouraged to play only with their brown-eyed peers and to ignore their lifelong blue-eyed friends.

At first, there was resistance to the idea that brown-eyed children were any better than blue-eyed children. To counter this, she used a pseudo-scientific explanation for her actions by stating that the melanin responsible for making brown-eyed children also was linked to intelligence and ability, therefore the brown pigmentation would result in an increase of these qualities. Shortly thereafter, this initial resistance fell away. Those who were deemed “superior” became arrogant, bossy and otherwise unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates. Their grades also improved, doing mathematical and reading tasks that seemed outside their ability before. The “inferior” classmates also transformed – into timid and subservient children, including those who had previously been dominant in the class. These children’s academic performance suffered, even with tasks that had been simple before.

The following day, Elliott reversed the exercise, making the blue-eyed children superior. While the blue-eyed children did taunt the brown-eyed in ways similar to what had occurred the previous day, Elliott reports it was much less intense. At 2:30 on that Wednesday, Elliott told the brown-eyed children to take off their collars and the children cried and hugged one another. To reflect on the experience, she had the children write letters to Coretta Scott King and write compositions about the experience.[2]
Controversy surrounding the exercise

According to Elliott, the first reaction to her exercise (Elliott prefers not to refer it as an “experiment”) was in the teachers’ lounge at lunchtime the day she did the exercise for the first time. When Elliott explained what she was doing in her class and why and how a number of shy and slow blue-eyed children were benefitting at the expense of the “brown-eyes”, there was disbelief and confusion. One teacher responded that, “I thought it was about time somebody shot that son-of-a-bitch.” Elliott was shocked and dismayed. Later, the compositions that the children wrote about the experience were printed in the Riceville Recorder on page 4 on April 18, 1968 under the headline “How Discrimination Feels”. This story was picked up by the Associated Press.[2]

Because of the AP story, Elliott was invited to appear on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. After she telling of the exercise in a short interview segment, audience reaction to her was instant as hundreds of calls came into the show’s switchboard, most of the reaction was negative.[2] An often-quoted letter states “How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children.”[2]

Elliott has said that the exercise and the publicity that it was getting did not make her popular with some of the local citizens. When Elliott walked into the teacher’s lounge the day after being on the Johnny Carson show, several teachers walked out. Her children were taunted and/or assaulted by other children.[1] Her children were verbally and physically abused and the number of customers at her parent’s cafe decreased drastically.[3] All of this racist reaction reinforced Elliott’s determination to continue to enlighten her students and, therefore, inoculate parents and peers against the disease of racism. She felt that it would be wrong to do nothing and felt that people’s lack of understanding, and fear of change, allow racism to exist and grow.[3]

However, not all the reaction was negative. The mail that Elliott received after each television appearance was overwhelmingly positive, particularly from adult persons of color and educators. Most of the time that she remained in the Riceville school system, she had the support of her superiors and they gave her unpaid leave to pursue outside activities which were related to the exercise and its effects.[2] As news of her exercise spread, she appeared on more television shows, and started to repeat the exercise in professional training days for adults. On December 15, 1970, Elliott provided the experience for educators, physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, and civic leaders at a White House Conference on Children and Youth, staging it for adults, but with the same reactions as those exhibited by her students, though much more violent.[2]

In 1971, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) broadcast a documentary about her called “The Eye of the Storm” and made her more nationally known. After that, two books, “A Class Divided” and “A Class Divided: Then and Now” by William Peters were written about her and the exercise.[2] “A Class Divided” was turned into a PBS Frontline documentary in 1985, and included a reunion of the schoolchildren featured in “The Eye of the Storm”. “Frontline: A Class Divided” is the most requested video on PBS’s website.[4] A televised edition of the exercise was shown in the United Kingdom on 29 October 2009 on Channel 4 entitled The Event: How Racist Are You?.[5] This documentary was intended, according to the producers in their agreement with Jane Elliott, to create an awareness by using UK citizens to the effects of racist behaviors. In fact, actors who had been seen previously on UK programming and commercials, were allowed to participate without Elliott’s knowledge, thereby discrediting the entire presentation.

Among her honors was being featured by Peter Jennings on ABC as “Person of the Week” and textbook editor McGraw-Hill lists her on a timeline of notable educators along with Confucius, Plato, Booker T. Washington and Maria Montessori.[1] She has been invited to speak at 350 colleges and universities as well as appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show five times.[2]

Elliott considers her greatest honor having Kenneth Clark write the foreword to the book “A Class Divided Then and Now” by William Peters in which he states, “…Jane Elliott’s contribution demonstrates that it is possible to educate and produce a class of human beings united by understanding, acceptance, and empathy.”
Origin of workplace diversity training

Jane Elliott is considered to be the “foremother” of diversity training,[6] with the blue-eyed/brown-eyed scenario as the basis of much of what is called diversity training.[1] She has done such training for corporations like General Electric, Exxon, AT&T, and IBM, as well as lectured to the FBI, IRS, US Navy, US Department of Education and US Postal Service.[2]

As Elliott began to do workshops and other training based on her exercise to organizations outside of her school system, the Riceville school system granted her unpaid leave to do this. However, the increasing demands to be away from the classroom eventually caused problems with her public school teaching career.[2] Elliott left teaching in the mid 1980s to devote herself full time to corporate training. Her standard fee since then has been at least $6,000 per day for companies and governmental institutions.[1]

The exercise that Elliott developed for her classroom was redeveloped for the corporate world. The exercise was promoted positively as a way to promote teamwork, profits and “winning together”. On the negative side, it was claimed that not doing such diversity training could make these same companies open to bad publicity, boycotts and lawsuits.[1]

Companies found the idea of offering such training attractive, not only because in the 1970s and 1980s there were increasing numbers of non-Caucasians in their organizations, but also because of U.S. court rulings and federal policies to promote multiculturalism brought about by pressure from civil rights groups during the same two decades.[1]

These policies and rulings primarily dealt with “hostile work environments” such as; the Supreme Court of the United States’s 1986 ruling in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson where employers were accused of tolerating between groups of employees; and the notion of “disparate impact” (established in the 1970s by Griggs v. Duke Power Co.) that could hold a company liable for practices that resulted in unequal outcomes even if it was not the company’s intention. Other lawsuits of these two types had been realized against companies like Texaco, CocaCola, Denny’s, Chevy Chase Bank, Sodexho and Abercrombie & Fitch. In most of these cases, the judgment went against these companies resulting in the payment of compensation and the implementation of some kind of monitored diversity plan.[1] Elliott herself offered Denny’s as an example of how racism leads to costs via lawsuits. She claimed that Denny’s had to pay $46 million USD for one suit but still had an incident later where a group of black children were not waited on, and so predicted another suit for the restaurant chain.

Many companies at that time came to see diversity training as a way to ward off negative legal action and publicity.[1] Elliott said, “If you can’t think of any other reason for getting rid of racism, think of it as a real money saver.” In fact, by the 1980s many corporations had started to accept much of what diversity training proposed to do, adopting role-playing exercises and terms such as “inclusion”, “mutual learning”, “and “winning together”. By 1994, there were 5,000 diversity trainers in the United States.[7] In 2004, Coca Cola CEO E. Neville Isdell asked a court to extend federal supervision of its diversity policy citing such oversight as a valuable resource. The rationale given for this acceptance is that it not only helps with complying with US federal law but helps profits[1] by reducing employee turnover and increasing market reach.[8]

Diversity training based on Elliott’s methods has been mandated by colleges and universities such as Wake Forest University and Johns Hopkins University. Often these are required after incidents such as the Halloween party invitations done by the Sigma Chi fraternity chapter at Johns Hopkins which were accused of being racially offensive.[9]

Elliott-inspired diversity training has been realized outside the United States as well. Diversity training was little-known in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 1990s; however when The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 passed in the United Kingdom, it listed 100 diversity training firms in the Diversity Directory. According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 70% of firms have diversity policies in which diversity training plays a major role. Many of these courses are designed to have a “lighter touch” than Elliott’s approach, but those based solidly on Elliott’s model are also promoted.[7] Elliott has personally held workshops in Australia, focusing on racial issues brought up by Pauline Hanson and the lack of acknowledgment of contributions made by aborigines in that country.

Jane Elliott sells videos and other materials to be used by diversity trainers such as “Blue-eyed”, “The Angry Eye”, “The Stolen Eye”, and “The Essential Blue-eyed”, as well as the PBS and ABC documentaries on her website www.janeelliott.com. These videos are promoted by the National MultiCultural Institute, a Washington DC based organization,[1] and by BusinessTrainingMedia.com Inc Training Media
Criticism of Elliott-inspired diversity training

It should be noted that most of the criticisms below reference seminars and/or presentations which loosely adapted Elliott’s techniques and with which Elliott had no connection. Elliott has consistently warned presenters and trainers about the dangers of the misuse of her technique and materials.

According to supporters of Elliott’s approach, the goal is to reach people’s sense of empathy and morality. It seeks to address is a sense of apathy that many people have because they do not think the problem affects them or that they do not believe that they act in a racist manner.[8] Elliott says racism is not inherent, “You are not born a racist. You have to carefully be taught to be one.”[3] And while Jane Elliott created the exercise as a response to racial discrimination, her approach is equally touted to point out sexism, ageism and homophobia as well.

However, it is the manner in which these training sessions are conducted and Elliott’s role as a trainer that has drawn criticism. First, she usually puts the “brown-eyed” participants in the superior position. If the group attending the session is of various races, the ones experiencing discrimination are most likely to be white.

The corporate version of “blue-eyed/brown-eyed” is still based on demeaning a chosen group of people and then letting the temporarily favored group taunt them, much the way the brown-eyed children of the original exercise did, and, according to people of color the way minority group members are treated in this country on a daily basis.[1] Like in the original exercise, she does not explicitly tell participants to mock others but uses choice of language and tone, removal of basic rights (such as being allowed to speak without permission) and a constant changing of the rules to discomfort the blue-eyed participants – a deliberate reversal of what happens in society at large. At the same time she uses positive language, praise and encouragement to the brown-eyed people. One way she does this is with the use of an alternative IQ test called the “Dove Counterbalance Intelligence Test” which asks questions about the black experience of the 1950s and 1960s. “… which presumes that most whites would not be able to answer, thus mimicking the experience that blacks supposedly have with more conventional IQ tests.”[10]

At seminars given at U.S. federal agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), white males were verbally abused by black peers and then forced to walk a gauntlet to be touched by female workers. This, however, is totally irrelevant to Elliott’s Blue Eyed/Brown Eyed Exercise, and Elliott is opposed to its being referenced in this article.[9] Jane herself states “When we have multicultural diversity training, one of the first things they have is a dinner where they serve foods from all different lands. Except white. We don’t study white culture ‘cause that’s the right culture’. We already know white culture. We don’t call it white culture, we call it reality.”

Another criticism of such training programs is that they do not permit genuine debate or discussion about the issues to be addressed, even though extensive discussion is encouraged directly following Elliott’s exercise, sometimes months after the completion of the exercise, and, in the classroom for the rest of the year.

She has also been accused of not recognizing the social and political changes that have occurred since the era in which she originally developed the exercise. Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at University of Pennsylvania, writes that Elliott’s exercise teaches “blood-guilt and self-contempt to whites,” adding that “in her view, nothing has changed in American [sic] since the collapse of Reconstruction.”(p. 19)[2]

However, Elliott seems to feel that such an approach is still necessary. She is quoted as saying “I’ve reached a point now where I will no longer tolerate the intolerable. I’m a ball of barbed-wire and I know it.” “After 30 years of dealing with this subject of racism, I am no longer a sweet, gentle person. I want it stopped.”[11] She has also expressed frustration at the idea that she still needs to do this exercise, “It shouldn’t be necessary in 2008,” she says, to “…say things that are difficult for people to hear. I’m not kind about it. But neither are the racists.”[12]
Legacy of the original exercise

Two decades after she stopped teaching in Iowa she is still not welcome in the community; “[Jane Elliott] is detested by some of the residents as an arrogant, self-centered opportunist who turned against her town and inflicted untold harm on hundreds of Riceville’s children.” (p9)[clarification needed] She was, however, included in Riceville’s official chronicles which were published to celebrate the town’s 150th anniversary in 2005. And Dean Weaver, who was superintendent of Riceville schools from 1972–1979, thought she was an outstanding teacher who did things differently and made other teachers envious of her success. Ex-principal Steve Harnack commented that she was excellent at teaching academics and suggested she would have had fewer problems with the community if she had involved parents.[2]

More than 450 children went through her experiment from 1968 to 1984 and many say that she is “a hero, a teacher extraordinaire, whose simple experiment, which lasted just two days, forever changed their lives.” ( p9) Almost all these students say that they remember the exercise very vividly and that it made them think, and try to be different. As to whether they want their own children or students to experience it, results are mixed. Special education teacher Jay McGovern, who was one of Elliott’s grade school students, says that she was an outstanding teacher but he feels uncertain about what he experienced in her exercise. “The way she did it, she put people down… Today, … You don’t ridicule or berate people to try to make your point. Back in the ’60s, there wasn’t that body of research.” (p18) However another student, Dale McCarthy, who went through the exercise in 1969, recalls that while he found the experience “nearly impossible to endure” he realized the benefit the first time he met a black man and shook his hand. He also states that one of his brothers-in-law is black and there is no problem, but adds that if his own daughter had to do that exercise, he would complain to the school. (p20-21)[2]

Academic research into Elliott’s experiment is inconclusive about whether it reduces long-term prejudice or if the possible psychological harm outweighs the potential benefits. She has been accused of scaring people, breaking the school rules, humiliating children, being domineering, angry and brainwashing. Two professors of education in England, Ivor F. Goodson and Pat Sikes, claim unhesistantly that what Elliott did was unethical, calling the experiment psychologically and emotionally damaging. They also stated ethical concerns connected to the fact that the children were not told of the purpose of the exercise beforehand.[2] Long term results of the diversity training for adults are also unknown. In some courses, participants can wind up feeling frustrated about “their inability to change” and instead begin to feel anger against the very groups they are supposed to be more sensitive to. It can also lead to anxiety because people become hyper-sensitive about being offensive or being offended.[7] However, three years after Elliott’s original exercise, an associate professor at the University of Northern Iowa conducted an attitudinal survey of the third- to sixth-grade students in the Riceville Community School and in the third- to sixth-grade students in a comparable community to measure their attitudes concerning racism. When the results were compiled, not only were Elliott’s former students less racist in their responses as measured by this survey, than were their fellow students, but ALL the students in the third- to sixth-grades in the Riceville school were less racist than the students in the comparable community. The associate professor concluded that not only were Elliott’s students attitudes positively changed by the exercise, but their attitudes were ameliorating the attitudes of their peers.[citation needed]

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Mohandas Gandhi

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.”