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Life Changing Lesson: Anti-Discrimination

Disclaimer:

1) Only attempt this lesson once you know your students very well and use your own discretion/common sense.

2) If you have students you do not believe will be able to handle the lesson I recommend you ask them to be a “reporter” and watch the lesson unfold from the sidelines.

3) Students cannot leave this lesson without the appropriate "debriefing".

4) Check with your school leadership before you run this lesson and you may want to inform parents.

5) Make sure you have enough time allocated for this lesson (60+ minutes).

Overview

The idea is that students experience discrimination first hand.

  • Students record their thoughts/reflections as they progress through the activity.
  • Students are divided into groups according to eye color.
  • Students are told there is a correlation between eye color, intelligence, empathy and sporting ability.
  • Student sit a rigged test which reinforces the eye color discrimination
  • Students are watch some of "A Class Divided"...and the penny drops
  • Students share their experience and reflections.

In 1954 Martin Luther King was assassinated. Shortly after Jane Elliott developed an incredibly powerful way to give her grade 3 students a taste of what King was fighting against.

Many years on I decided to try it with my class...

PART 1

Students are divided into two groups using an arbitrary rule, eye colour. The reason Elliot chose eye colour is because it it determined by genetics and the melanin in our bodies…just like our skin colour.

When my students enter class I have the tables set out with an outside ring surrounding and inside group. I then direct my students with the “brown eyed” children on the outside and the blue/green eyed students on the inside.

Students are then given a sheet you can download here that matched their eye colour.

The sheets are highlighted by eye colour.

Give the student the sheet with their eye color highlighted, instruct them not look at each others worksheet and ask them to fill in their name, circle their eye colour and complete Part 1.

Once student have completed Part 1 explain that a new study has found eye colour has a significant relationship to intelligence, creativity, sporting ability and empathy. I use Part 1 of this PowerPoint to help, feel free to edit as you see fit.

As a teacher that cares greatly for his students I found it very difficult to present this PowerPoint.

I saw students have their dreams crushed and hearts broken as I progressed through the slides. I had to monitor my students and keep in mind the end goal.

Explain to the class that our school is changing how we do things based on this data. More resources will be allocated to students more likely to succeed…those with dark eyes.

From this point on I am MUCH nicer to the students with darker eyes and quite rude to students with light eyes.

PART 2

Students are then asked to complete the rigged maths test on the worksheet. You choose the appropriate time for your class, but make it short.

Remind them not to ask any questions about the test, as this my uncover the test is rigged.

The "Good" students should complete the test faster and achieve better results than the "Damaged" group.

For example:
Question 5.

  • Brown/Black/Dark (Good) = 10 x 77 = 770

  • Blue/Green/Light (Damaged) = 700 – 30 + (2 x 50) = 770

I then display the answers using the PowerPoint (you can call them out) without saying the question.

I then ask all students then stand up, and sit down only as I call the number they got correct...counting down.

This will likely leave the inferior, blue eyed students in the middle standing last.

PART 3

It's a horrible lesson to teach that's why the conclusion is so important.

At this point I ask students to compete Part 3 of the sheet.

This is a way of recording their feelings when they experience or watch discrimination.

Here are some responses my student have written:

Darker Eye Students (Better)

  • I feel proud of myself.
  • Yeah, I didn't know about the dark and light colour thing. I feel a bit more confident.
  • I'm happy with my eye color.
  • I feel great, but I empathse with lighter people because they didn't choose what eye color they have.
  • It feels fine, but I guess it feels weird that they're judging us.
  • I feel proud about myself and I am happy with my eye colour.
  • I think the new program is different but good.
  • I'm amazed that eye colour has so much impact on learning.
  • I feel awesome that I got the questions right and I've got dark eyes.

Lighter Eyed Student (Damaged)

  • Now I am not happy with my eye colour.
  • I think blue eyed people can do things the same or even better than dark eyed people.
  • I hate my eye color. I did think it was good, but not anymore.
  • I feel bad, sad and disappointed.
  • I don't think I have a good eye colour.
  • I feel bad because this is how I am. Some blue and green eyed people are good.
  • I think I'm going to be a bad person and sad.
  • I'm not happy with my eye colour.

Once student have finished, usually after about 5minutes, I put on this video.

We usually watch the first 10-20mins.

Each time I've done this lesson one of the most amazing moments of my 13 year teaching career.

It's the moment, one by one, the students figure out the experience they have had is not real. Their dreams become possible and their hearts heal. It has bought tears to my eyes before.

The two keys are:

  • Makes sure the kids are 100% clear on what has happened. The test was rigged, they couldn't win! It was not real. Eye color has nothing to do with their intelligence, sporting ability, creativity our empathy.

  • Clarify the purpose behind the lesson is to understand what it might be like to be judged, categorise and treated because of an arbitrary feature of you genetic make up.

PART 4

We then dive deep into a discussion about discrimination, racism and their experience.

I used the Powerpoint to continue discussion. But it matches what was appropriate for my class and culture, please edit it to suit your needs.

This is a very important moment where students can often open up about their general experiences and understandings of racism.

AFTER the truth came out...

  • I felt like my future was changed.
  • I was scared I'd get in trouble if I said something. I thought you might put me in with them (Light eyed).
  • I wasn't sure if I believed you or not. It sounded real because how you explained it.
  • I thought I was going to be the "rare one" that is better than their eye colour.
  • I think this was good. I have been teased because of my skin. One person in this class once said that because of my skin I might become a slave. I don't think they knew what they were really saying.
  • I feel sad that some people have this their whole lives.

One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when two of my students notified they had come up with an idea to create a petition to "stop this stupid and unfair program". They planned on getting al the students to sign it and take it to our principal. They were activists!

Finally, thank you Jane Elliot.

PS: While teaching in Asia-pacific where all but for of my students had dark brown eyes, I decided to separate the class using the number of “A”s in their name. I created a news article saying More”A”s produce smarter adults.


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Tim is a passionate educator. At times has been labelled a "Maverick" (amongst other things). He is also the founder of Class Creator and author of "88 Ways to Teach Effectively" (Out mid 2016).