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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chapter 3: The Eye of the Storm - A Remarkable Story


Human Relations Film Series

By turning the spotlight on specific groups and cultures, this dramatic series produced by ABC News unveils a revealing portrait of what motivates people and how they cope with their life situations and/or problems.

In The Eye of the Storm a classroom situation is deliberately created to teach third graders how it feels to be on the receiving end of discrimination. In an animated version of Dickens' Christmas Carol, stingy, lonely old Scrooge discovers the meaning of Christmas.

The Eye of the Storm

This documentary explores the nature of prejudice in a dramatic third-grade classroom experiment conducted in a small Midwestern town, a town without ghettos, blacks, or campus unrest. It demonstrates how quickly wholesome, friendly schoolchildren can be infected with the ugly virus of discrimination that leads to frustration, broken friendships, and vicious behavior.


Jane Elliott, a perceptive teacher in the nearly all-white, all-Christian farming community of Riceville, Iowa, USA is deeply disturbed by the assassination of Martin Luther King. When one of her 16 third-grade pupils remarks, "They shot a King. Why did they shoot a King?" Mrs. Elliott decides to help her students understand the nature of prejudice by pretending to be prejudiced herself.

During Brotherhood Week she divides the class into two groups, blue-eyed children and brown-eyed children. She explains that blue-eyed children are more intelligent, better behaved, quicker to learn, and in every way superior to brown-eyed children. To call attention to the "inferior" brown-eyed children, the blue-eyed youngsters are told to place a collar around the neck of each brown-eyed child in the class. The collars are worn all day.

The "superior" blue-eyed children enjoy the exclusive privileges of sitting at the front of the class, using play- ground equipment, drinking from the fountain (brown-eyes use paper cups), going to recess first, eating lunch first, and so on.

The unjust treatment causes striking behavior changes in both sets of children. Happy to be on top, the blue-eyed youngsters act superior and aggressive. The brown-eyed children become unbelieving, unhappy, and finally want revenge.

The next day Mrs. Elliott explains that she had lied the day before. Blue-eyed children really aren't superior; the brown-eyed children are. After all, Mrs. Elliott has blue eyes herself, and she admitted to lying. The children accept her explanation, and collars are placed around the necks of the blue-eyed children. Behavior becomes more vicious, leading to name-calling and a fistfight between a blue-eyed and a brown-eyed boy.

At the end of the second day the teacher confesses to the children what she has done and why. She then leads them in a discussion of their experiences. When the class understands what happened, relief gushes out. The youngsters become animated, friendly, and happy and all join in singing a song – all but one boy still emotionally involved in tearing up his collar.

During the experiment, Mrs. Elliott learns more from the "superior" children – they become "ghastly." She also notes that ability to perform in the classroom undergoes considerable change. Children wearing collars take twice as long to read phonic materials from a card pack. Afterward they explain they "couldn't concentrate" on school work when they were so unhappy.

The class was easily freed from the prison of prejudice by a teacher. But countless other people remain in that prison, and this is the bitter point of The Eye of the Storm.

Before Viewing

Depending on the audience and objectives, the film can be introduced with questions such as:

  • Do children instinctively hate people different from themselves?
  • Can a society be taught to hate? Can you think of examples of this in history? In our society today?
  • Do you think that some races of people are biologically superior to others? Explain.
  • What is prejudice? Is it learned? Who teaches it? If you think it is taught. Why is it taught? Then before showing the film on how children are taught to be prejudiced, request that behavior changes should be carefully noted.

After Viewing

The film can generate lively discussion with questions and topics such as:

  • Do you sometimes make judgments about others that you think are really prejudiced? Discuss.
  • Can you suggest ways to reduce prejudice?
  • What do you think should be done in the schools to teach children to appreciate others as individuals, without prejudice because of race, religion, or nationality?
  • Why did Mrs. Elliott claim she learned more from the "superior" children?
  • What are the implications of being under emotional stress while trying to learn? What is the responsibility of the schools in this regard? Of the church? Of the family?
  • Do you agree with Mrs. Elliott's claim that "Children have to find out... . They have to be involved... . They have to know how it feels to be stepped upon." Why?
  • Do you think only minority groups are discriminated against in our society? Can you think of examples in which minority groups discriminated against majority groups? Explain how the discrimination works.
  • What do you think will happen if prejudice and discrimination continue unchanged in our society?

Follow-Up Activities

  1. Make a list of examples of prejudice that:

    • Viewers have experienced themselves.
    • Viewers have learned about from radio, TV, or reading.
  2. Recommended reading Lord of the Flies.Discuss the possibility that without rules of a society to guide and protect them, young children would become savage, cruel, and primitive.
  3. Role-playing in which the following roles are played out:

    • Black policeman trying to break up a crowd of white demonstrators.
    • White policeman trying to do the same with black demonstrators.
    • Situations invented to reveal attitudes and emotions about discrimination
  4. Divide the participants into groups by religion, color, sex, nationality. Ask each group to list the five things they most want in life. Compare the lists of the groups. Do they have anything in common? What?

Related Recommended Reading

  • Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1954.
  • Clark, Kenneth B. Prejudice and Your Child. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1955.
  • Clark, Kenneth B. Dark Ghetto. New York: Harper & Row-, 1965.
  • Gardiner, Robert. World of Peoples. New York; Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Glock, Charles Y. and Ellen Siegelman, eds. Prejudice U.S.A. New York: Praeger, 1969.
  • Glock, Charles Y. and Rooney Stark. Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
  • Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward McCann Inc., 1962.
  • Pettigrew, Thomas F. A Profile of the Negro American. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand. 1964.
  • Powdermaker, Hortense. Probing Our Prejudices. New York: Harper & Row, 1944.
  • Williams, Robin M., Jr. Strangers Next Door: Ethnic Relations in American Communities. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964.

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