In her teaching, Jane Elliott wanted to “put her students in another’s moccasins”, or another’s shoes (Frontline, 1985). Her reasoning was that you can’t truly understand another person’s pain until you experience what they are experiencing, and although they had been talking about racism in class, talking about and experiencing are two different ways of learning. Howard wrote about “responses that heal” in his essay on racism in America: facing reality was at the top of his list (Howard). I think that Elliott’s lesson was an excellent lesson in facing reality for these kids. They were told one day that they would be judged based on the color of their eyes, with each group having the chance to be the dominant group (Frontline, 1985). The kids all were able to experience how it felt to be on top, and how it felt to be on bottom. Each one, though they had heard about discrimination and had discussed it, had never truly experienced what it was. Now they had, and I think it really helped them with their perceptions later in life.
As educators, I think it is important for us to really drive home lessons in diversity with students. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of using real-life experiences and activities to make learning stick, to make it meaningful. The same idea applies for lessons on values, including how to treat others as human beings. I think watching the video of Elliott’s classroom was particularly inspiring, as we got to see how her lessons had a lasting effect on her students. Stepping into the shoes of someone on the “bottom” of their society truly had a major impact on the way they saw the world. There is an important lesson to be learned from this: a single lesson based within the perspective of others can help shape individuals into strong, compassionate people who are more understanding of the prejudices of the world.
Howard, G. (1996). Whites in multicultural education: Rethinking our role. Banks, J. A., Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, & action. New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University
Peters, W. (1985). A class divided. Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=frol02s42cq66&continuous=1