When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in July 1968, grief and frustration broke across America. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality and was an anti-racist crusader. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death had an impact on one person in Ireland, thousands of miles away. Jane Elliot, a third-grade teacher wanted to set the records straight, as she said that she has talked about racism from the first day of school. She wanted to teach her third-grade students about Martin Luther King Jr., and knew that there was only one way she could do that. A Class Divided is about Jane Elliot, a third-grade teacher in Ricefield, who once told her third-grade students that “It is a fact; blue-eyed people were better than brown-eyed people.” This statement created ripples of anger and frustration among kids with blue eyes and brown eyes in her class, and when she targeted the kids with brown eyes first, she could see that kids with brown eyes became desolate and stunned. “It was a daring experiment in prejudice,’ noted the narrator, as Elliot said that she was amazed, as her wonderful, thoughtful children turned into nasty, vicious, discriminating, little third-graders in fifteen minutes.” What transpired didn’t come as a surprise to her, as the children with brown-eyes, feeling humiliated and targeted, became defensive and forlorn. Her experiment worked, as she turned the focus on the blue-eyed children as she targeted them the next day.
Her debrief at the end of the third day made the children understand that color should never be construed to weakness or inferiority. Running the experiment on children and adults, her experiment results are quite analogical; while children reacted in a sombre manner, adults from Iowa prison system employees reacted quite sordidly. When, fourteen years after they left third-grade, she invited the third-grade students with their families to a get-together, she was able to get their response to their behaviour then. She then used the experiment on Green Haven Correctional Facility inmates at Stormville, New York. A Class Divided also shows her experimenting with the Iowa state prison system employees, who react to her experiment in the most bizarre manner possible. Her attack on blue-eyed employees showed that adults didn’t like to be targeted, or prejudiced, and tried to go on the offence to protect them from discrimination. The success of that experiment was clearly spelt out by one blue-eyed participant who said that he understood, or at least he felt what it was like to be in the minority. On her experiment, Elliot says the necessity for such exercises is a crime; however, it could be used by teachers and administrators, but not on students, unless of course it is done with a purpose and in the right way.
The film relates to the course material in a number of ways. The film is a socio- psychological attempt to dissect the cause and reason for racism in modern society. While a number of definitions are attributed to socio-psychology, “socio-psychological situations, as diverse as they may be, contain one common factor: social influence.” When the teacher asks her third-grade children what they think of black or other colored people, what did they think of them, one child said “look at that, dumb people,” while another said blacks were called “niggers.” Now, children of third-grade wouldn’t be able to answer why they call these people like that, but it is obvious that they picked it up from their parents or elders. Therefore, social influence has only continued the racist overtures of the young, innocent minds. Similarly, in the course material, in A Note on the Ethics of Experiments, there is the mention that in their quest for knowledge, “experimental social psychologists subject their participants to some fairly intense experiences.” This is evident in Elliot’s experiments where she uses the color-eye theory to discriminate children and adults alike.
The example of Rogers at the Iowa prison facility being humiliated and embarrassed by Elliot is a strong example of subjecting a participant to fairly intense experience. In the chapter on Mass Communication, Propaganda, and Persuasion, it says that most likely that, events like “riots, bombings, earthquakes, massacres, and other violent acts get more air time than stories about people working to prevent violence.” At the beginning of the video, A Class Divided, Martin Luther King Jr., seen leading hundreds of whites and blacks on a street, is closely followed by a snapshot of him felled by an assassin’s bullet. Riots break out in grief and humiliation over American cities.
The film is highly educative and gives valid inputs on how racist outlook can be reigned in through innovative experiments like those of Jane Elliot. The video is an eye opener and should be shown to various social and government organizations that strives to end the outlawed racist attacks on people of a minority group. It is about time that such videos are played in schools, in offices, and on national television. Why should there be disparity and discrimination at school, college, or in office, when it is these same people who bring glory to the country during Olympics, and in other sports.