Within 30 minutes, a blue-eyed girl named Carol had regressed from a "brilliant, self-confident, carefree, excited little girl to a frightened, timid, uncertain little almost-person.” Contrarily, the brown-eyed children excelled under their newfound superiority.
Elliott had seven students with dyslexia in her class that year and four of them had brown eyes. On the day that the browns were "on top," those four brown-eyed boys with dyslexia read words that Elliott “knew they couldn’t read” and spelled words that she “knew they couldn’t spell.”
Along with their increased scholastic acumen, the brown-eyed children in Jane Elliot’s class began to become extremely hostile towards their blue-eyed peers. Prior to that day in 1968, her students had expressed neither positive nor negative thoughts about each other based on eye color. Although Elliott taught them that it was all right to judge one another based on eye color, she did not teach them how to oppress. “They already knew how to be racist because every one of them knew without my telling them how to treat those who were considered inferior,” says Elliott.
The following day, she reversed the roles with the blue-eyed students as the dominant group. The results were identical to the day before.
For 14 out of the next 16 years that Elliott taught in Riceville, she conducted the exercise (administering several tests throughout the course of the exercise). She decided to send her findings to Stanford University and they were astonished to find that in a matter of a day, the students’ academic ability rose or fell depending on which group they belonged to (“dominant” or “inferior”).
Whether we accept or reject these findings, it still should give us an abundance of food for thought. It should give us more insight into this relationship between student self-perception and education. Which leads to the question: If change in such a short period of time can be so pronounced, what impact has fifty years of indifference and or outright opposition to the culture and history of those of the African Diaspora had on black students?
This question was addressed somewhat in Jacqueline Jordan Irvine’s book Black Students And School Failure. She outlined eighteen studies where teachers’ attitudes toward and perceptions of black students was compared to those of white students. Researchers of these studies concluded that teachers had more negative attitudes and beliefs about black children than about white children in such variables as personality traits and characteristics, ability, language, behavior and potential.
In one study, Gottlieb (1964) asked black and white teachers from inner-city schools to rate the students they taught. These teachers were given a list of thirty-six adjectives and asked to select the adjectives that best described their students. Black teachers described the (black) students as happy, energetic and fun-loving; their white counterparts described the same students as talkative, lazy and rebellious.
Griffin and London (1979) administered a questionnaire to 270 black and white teachers in inner-city schools in which 90 percent or more of the children enrolled were members of minority groups. The researchers found that 64.6 percent of the black teachers considered minority students of average or better ability; 66.1 percent of the white teachers considered these same children to be of average or lesser ability.
Simpson and Erickson (1983) observed teachers’ verbal and nonverbal behaviors for the independent variables of student race, student gender and teacher gender. The white teachers directed more verbal praise, criticism, and nonverbal praise toward males than toward females. In contrast, they directed more nonverbal criticism toward black males than toward black females, white females or white males.
Aaron and Powell (1982) also found that black pupils received more negative academic and behavioral feedback than did white pupils. By far the most interesting study, in my opinion, was that of Meir, Steward and England (1988). In it an analysis was conducted of 173 large urban school districts and they found that as the proportion of black teachers in a school district increases, the proportion of black students assigned to special education classes, suspended, or expelled decreases.
These findings are not meant to suggest that all white teachers are incompetent in teaching black students or that all black teachers are exemplary educators of black children. However, these findings do indicate that, as a group, white teachers are more likely than black teachers to hold negative expectations for black students and for anyone to suggest that this has nothing to do whatsoever with the academic future of our children would be reprehensible. When 85 percent of this nation’s K-12 teachers are white and over 90 percent of its administrators are as well, the aforementioned findings become even more noteworthy.
Also, it must be understood that we still live in a society that is reluctant to resolve the issues of inequity and racism that still plague us. Add to that the reality that we have become more segregated as a society in the past 30 years. This limits, profoundly, the cross-cultural understanding that is necessary in educating and teaching children of color.
We Are Not Important Enough To Know About
I would like to introduce the topic of curriculum with an analogy that I have used from time to time. Imagine visiting the home you grew up in. Your mother and father (some of us may not share this experience, but imagine it just the same) greet you at the door and you walk through a corridor where the walls are full of plaques and framed certificates highlighting the achievements of your siblings. Your sister’s perfect attendance award; the brother’s 2nd place plaque for the 5th grade spelling bee…. Achievement after achievement, but none of yours are there. You go into a room that is full of the trophies. Your sister’s trophy for winning the softball championship; your brother’s Most Valuable Player trophy for football…. Accomplishment after accomplishment, but none of your trophies are there. Finally, you take a look at the photo albums. Your brother’s first step; your eldest brother’s prom; your younger sister’s wedding…. Picture after picture and memory after memory, but none of your pictures or memories can be found.