Jane Elliot was born in 1933 in Riceville, Iowa . She works as an American teacher and as a anti-racism activist. She first created the blue eyes/brown eyes experiment in the 1960s were she first performed it on the school children under her care. This established her career in diversity training.
Origin of the ExperimentEdit
The exercise that Jane Elliot tried out on her third grade class in Riceville, Iowa, was a direct result on Martin Luther King's death. Afterward she had a class discussion about the assassination and racism in general. 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.”
On April 5, 1968, Jane Elliot implemented the exercise. When her class arrived at school, she asked them what they thought about negroes. the children responded with various racist stereotypical comments such as negroes are stupid and can not keep a job. She then asked the children if they would like to experience the life of a negro child to which the children agreed.
On that day, Elliot decided to make the blue-eyed children the superior ones first, giving them extra privileges like second helpings at lunch, being able to play on the new jungle gym and giving them an extra five minutes at recess.She did not allow the brown-eyed children to drink from the same fountains as the blue-eyed ones. She would offer praise and commendation to the blue-eyes for being hardworking and intelligent while the 'brownies' were treated like rubbish, being continually put down. They also had to wear ribbons around their necks.
At first, there was resistance. Elliot countered this by using a pseudo-scientific explanation stating that the melanin that made blue eyes blue also was responsible for their intelligence and ability. The 'brownies' did not have this pigmentation and therefore lacked these qualities. Shortly thereafter, the resistance faded away. The effects of the criticism led to the blue-eyed children becoming bossy, arrogant and unpleasant towards their 'inferior' classmates. Their grades also improved, doing mathematical and reading tasks that seemed out of their reach before. A transformation also occurred with the brown-eyed children. They turned into 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, Elliot reversed the exercise, making the brown-eyed children superior. They were not as unpleasant towards the blue-eyed children unlike what the former did to them on the previous day, and it was much less intense. At 2:30 on that Wednesday, Elliot told the blue-eyed children to take off their collars and the children cried and hugged each other. She then told then to write letters to Coretta Scott King and to write compositions about the experience. The exercise changed her life both as a teacher and personally. Her reflections on what she had witnessed would influence how she would approach race relations and teaching. “She had not told her pupils to treat each other differently, only that they were different; and yet they developed the characteristic responses of discrimination. Jane Elliott felt that they did this because they had already absorbed discriminatory behavior from their parents and other adults.” Their willingness to accept the "inferiority" of a group of people was due to the fact that children believe what adults, including teachers, tell them and then follow their examples. However, when the brown-eyed children were ’superior’ they modified their behavior to be much less intense, because they already knew what it felt like to be ‘inferior.’
The exercise seemed to confirm the theory that black underachievement is a product of “white-dominated constructions of reality." Elliot believes that what has been taught in schools (1968 to the present) conditions students that whiteness is the objective. Schools teach virtually nothing of what people of color have contributed to humankind while most people would have little trouble naming 10 white males who have done so. “That’s called racism, people,” according to Elliott, as she believes it is racism to deny or ignore what other people contribute.
Elliot continued doing this exercise until the end of her teaching career in the Riceville school system in 1984. However, she never involved these children’s parents because “It was the parents who were the cause of the racism that these kids displayed.”
Origin of the Diversity Work TrainingEdit
Jane Elliot is described as being the 'foremother' of diversity training, with her blue-eyes/brown-eyes exercise the basis of much of what is called diversity training. she has done such training for many companies such as General Electric, Exxon, AT&T, and IBM, as well as lectured to the FBI, IRS, US Navy, US Dept of Education and US Postal Service.
When Elliot began to do workshops outside the school system and to organizations, the Riceville school system allowed her unpaid leave to do these workshops. However, the increasing demand to be away from school eventually lead to her leaving her teaching career to devote herself fulltime to the diversity training programs. Her standard fee since then has been at least $6,000 per day for companies and governmental institutions.
the exercise that she created for the classroom was redeveloped into 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.
Many companies at that time came to see diversity training as a way to ward off negative legal action and publicity. 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 5000 diversity trainers in the United States.
Jane Elliott sells videos and other material 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 documentaries done by PBS and ABC. These videos are promoted by the National MultiCultural Institute, a Washington DC based organization, and by BusinessTrainingMedia.com Inc Training Media.