Racial instruction is perilous

The best intentions can often have the worst effects.  I’m referring now to Jane Elliott, who in 1968 after learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., split her all-white third graders into two groups based entirely on the color of their eyes (“The Return of Jane Elliott,” The New York Times, July 19).

She designated the brown -eyed children the superior group and gave them extra privileges.  They soon became arrogant and unpleasant to their “inferior” classmates.  Her goal was to teach them how easily prejudice can be learned.  But she paid an enormous personal and professional price for her lesson.  Looking back, she admitted that if she had known beforehand what the price would be, she wouldn’t have designed the lesson.

My point is that teachers have to be exceedingly careful not to cross certain lines.  Whatever criticism is directed at Elliott because she designed her lesson with third-graders will likely also be directed at teachers doing the same thing with high schoolers. Racial instruction is by its very nature extremely risky.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Racial instruction is perilous”

  1. So — are racial issues included in the established curriculum? If not, then why not? Seems that racial issues, religious issues, political party issues, economic issues, taxation issues, abortion issues, gun issues, immigration issues, homosexual issues, welfare issues, social security issues, health care issues, and all the other issues that elections turn on should be included in the established curriculum.

    How else do we expect K-12 education to produce informed citizen voters?

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Even if racial issues are part of the curriculum, the problem is how teachers design lessons to teach their students. Jane Elliot was extremely creative, but she paid a steep price for what she did.

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