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Discrimination: a Class Divided

The PBS video, A Class Divided, has brought to light a sensitive subject that has plagued societies for hundreds, even thousands of years. I have learned a lot about discrimination by watching this video. I was not aware that discrimination is a learned behavior.

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It seems that anytime there is a situation in which someone is viewed in a critical way, called out on those facts, and an opinion on those facts is expressed, it is a potential for discrimination. It only takes the views of one person to alter another persons perception of the world around them.

There are several scenes from the video that has left a lasting impression in my mind. One of the most impressionable events was on the second day of the experiment. On this particular day, Jane Elliot called the children together to discuss what had been happening for the past two days. Once the children were discussing how it made them feel and how wrong it was to treat people that way, I thought that it was amazing that third graders could relate the experiment to real life discrimination.

I feel that these children really learned what is was like to discriminate against someone and to be discriminated against. Another scene that left a lasting impression on me, was the last scene of the program, when Jane Elliott was debriefing the adults from the correctional facility. That experiment, even in such a short time, proved how easy it was to break down the barriers of what is right or wrong. Even hough the adults were less tolerant of the ridicule and demeaning accusations, most did not say anything, and the ones that did just gave the discriminators more ammunition. The things that surprised me the most was how easy it was to turn the children against each other. It seemed so easy for the first group of children “on top” to find things to blame on the inferior group. It was almost automatic that the children in the inferior group to be offended or feel badly when called “brown eyes. ” I didn’t think they would react quite so quickly and feel so bad right away.

The blue-eyed children were mean and found lots of ways to discriminate against the brown eyed children. However once the brown eyed children were “on top” the terrible feeling about themselves seemed to diminish rather quickly, and I think since they knew how it felt to be on the inferior side they were not as mean and the first group of children that were “on top. ” The children that participated in the experience learned a very valuable lesson and were able to carry these values with them through adulthood.

It was amazing to me to see how stating facts like the color of someone’s eyes and adding an opinion to them, like they are smarter or better, can trigger such negative feelings. The names they used were not necessary derogatory, but were perceived as derogatory because stereotypes and discrimination attached to them. The children learned that just because they perceive something as being acceptable or normal it may cause someone else to feel bad or be hurt. The children also learned that teasing is hurtful and mean.

By setting distinct divisions, such as, giving the blue-eyed children five extra minutes at recess or not allowing them to play on the playground equipment the next day enforced the segregation and gave the children sense of hopelessness . Not allowing the children to play together made them feel as if their friends had just been taken away and that they were not as good or smart as the other group. Overall, what the children learned, is to except each other.

Even though there are physical differences, human beings deserve to be treated equally and fair no matter what color their eyes or skin may be. I think that this experiment runs parallel to the Sioux prayer “ Help me not judge a person until I have walked in his shoes. ” This activity teaches us that we can not fully understand how it would feel to be the minority and to be discriminated against unless put into a situation of such. Nor would we able to judge someone harshly for who or what they are until you have experienced it first hand and literally walked in their shoes.