On January 19, the country was celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Here, at school, our recognition was two-fold:
First,we used our time at school to participate in community volunteering. The Kindergarten went to a younger classroom to read and talk about books. We learned a lot during our first experience with sharing our book knowledge with younger children.
Second, we participated in an experiment about racism. The children were not aware that this was an experiment going on at the time. The experiment lasted 2 hours. I divided the group into Brown Eyes and Blue Eyes. Each group was given one hour to experience “everything” as normal. Each group was given one hour to experience “everything” taken away, being last or not given a fair share. Here are some comments by the children as they were engaged in the experiment:
“We can’t play. The Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes get to do everything they want.”
“That’s not fair. They get everything.”
“We want to play hide ‘n seek.”
“She is making everything not fair! This is not fun!”
“Who are you going to tell?” ( as in “tell on Ms. Mary”)
“ We really like climbing and we can’t figure out what to do.”
“ Everyday my eyes are brown. I wanna play but I don’t know what to do.”
“We only get the ground.”
“That’s just how life is, just how it is.” ( child with “everything explaining life to a child who had everything taken.)
“I’m sad cuz I didn’t get to play with ______.”
“Maybe it will change tomorrow.”
“How about if it goes, US, US, US!”
“I just want to stay inside.”
“I wish we didn’t have to go to school.” (all children at the table with everything taken away discussed this possibility)
It was an interesting experiment. While some children rallied and made the best of their situation, some hid and became belligerent toward me and other children. Mostly, I was stunned at how quickly the children took on their groups’ identity. The names “them” and “they” replaced individuals. They didn’t call each other by name anymore. They had, in this very short amount of time, separated themselves by eye color. For example, one child asked if he could play with the “blue eyed kids.”
We discussed our feelings after the experiment was revealed. There was a tremendous feelings both of sadness, anger and disappointment, joy, and happiness by all children for many reasons. A few of the children expressed disappointment because they could not play with their buddy. A few expressed disappointment because they did not get the same toys and playground equipment. Many expressed the joy in having “it all.” In the end, I made sure that we all understood that this was only an experiment and we were all equal.
*This experiment was first conducted by Jane Elliott in 1968. You may Google it or go to YouTube.