Frontline: A Class Divided

Published on 29th March 2016 by

This inspirational 1985 documentary is a follow up to William Peters’ 1970 documentary ‘Eye of the storm’. This was a 25 minute film capturing teacher Jane Elliott’s exercise of dividing her class of nine year olds by their eye colour the day after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.

The documentary shows the original footage from Peters’ 1970 film, interlaced with new footage and interviews with the students who gather some 15 years later to watch the experiment on a large screen.

We get to re-live the journey that Elliot takes her young class on in an attempt to demonstrate the unjustness of discrimination. Elliot does this brilliantly by dividing her class by eye colour for two days. On the first day the children with blue eyes are granted valuable reward simply for the colour of their eyes, whilst those with brown eyes are to suffer shortened recess, a water fountain ban and segregation, all whilst wearing collars for easy identification.

On the second day the roles were reversed when those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment. The results are amazing when observed amongst children. Those who were treated badly began to take on the roles of inferior students, performing worse in class and showing clear distress, whilst those with the ‘power’ of superiority began to ridicule the other group.

Unsurprisingly all of the children involved were unanimous in their understanding of why discrimination is unfair and the affect that this simple experiment had on them as adults is clear when we see them reunited with their teacher.

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