brainstorming is a fantastic thing. there are many ideas that don’t make the cut. while these ideas are not great, they are helpful in reaching better ones.
when searching for a blog topic, i was brainstorming moment and remembered a study done by a teacher who did racism exercise in her classroom which was controversial. she took children and divided them into groups and laid out rules which would make one group the oppressor and the group the victim of the oppressors. she then had them switch their roles.
i thought this lesson concept i could apply to a ten commandments lesson with respect to stealing. perhaps, some students can steal from other students. after than, reverse the roles.
at that point, i thought about it and realized what a disaster that would be. i would be teaching children to be thieves. the thought of engaging in this activity was reminiscent of gang initiations in which they make a fledgling member commit a crime for the purposes of becoming a member. this gang initiations can be tragic. i am aware of one in which a police officer was murdered.
in sum, the lesson concept was an epic failure as a teaching lesson. not, however, for a blog post.
lesson to be learned: it is a bad idea to engage and teach children the performance of immoral activity. there is the risk that they will learn how to do something that they never would have engaged in within their lifetime. there is the risk that they will take pleasure in the experience of doing so and wish to do so in the future.
with respect to the racism exercise, where there alternatives? would it be better having victims of racism explain there experiences and how it impacts their life? is it more important to have compassion with the victims rather than role play the oppressor?
now let us go to the story. is this educator professor evil? you be the judge.
in response to the assassination of martin luther king, jr. , ms. jane elliott initiated a lesson with her third grade class. essentially, she divided her class into one superior and the other inferior. she let it play out where the superior kids mistreated the inferior kids. then, she switched. the purpose of the exercise was to allow children to experience “actual discrimination.” smithsonian.
this was controversial at the time, .. elliott replied, “why are we so worried about the fragile egos of white children who experience a couple of hours of made-up racism one day when blacks experience real racism every day of their lives?” smithsonian.
there was criticism of her for the experiment. the criticisms, however, missed the point. these were the comments noted in a smithsonian article.
“for years scholars have evaluated Elliott’s exercise, seeking to determine if it reduces racial prejudice in participants or poses a psychological risk to them. The results are mixed. two education professors in england, ivor f. goodson and pat sikes, suggest that elliott’s experiment was unethical because the participants weren’t informed of its real purpose beforehand. alan charles kors, a professor of history at the university of pennsylvania, says elliott’s diversity training is “orwellian” and singled her out as “the torquemada of thought reform.” kors writes that elliott’s exercise taught “blood-guilt and self-contempt to whites,” adding that “in her view, nothing has changed in america since the collapse of reconstruction.” in a similar vein, linda seebach, a conservative columnist for the rocky mountain news, wrote in 2004 that elliott was a “disgrace” and described her exercise as “sadistic,” adding, “you would think that any normal person would realize that she had done an evil thing. but not elliott. she repeated the abuse with subsequent classes, and finally turned it into a fully commercial enterprise.” smithsonian.
also there were individual who praised her. they, however, missed the pointas well. .
“others have praised elliott’s exercise. in building moral intelligence: the seven essential virtues that teach kids to do the right things, educational psychologist michele borda says it “teaches our children to counter stereotypes before they become full-fledged, lasting prejudices and to recognize that every human being has the right to be treated with respect.” amitai etzioni, a sociologist at George washington university, says the exercise helps develop character and empathy. and stanford university psychologist philip g. zimbardo writes in his 1979 textbook, psychology and life, that elliott’s “remarkable” experiment tried to show “how easily prejudiced attitudes may be formed and how arbitrary and illogical they can be.” zimbardo—creator of the also controversial 1971 stanford prisoner experiment, which was stopped after college student volunteers acting as “guards” humiliated students acting as “prisoners”—says elliott’s exercise is “more compelling than many done by professional psychologists.” smithsonian.
why do you think? professor evil?
in my opinion, she was truly professor evil. the children, when they were in the superior position were taught to mistreat human beings. this is the real unintended lesson that is being taught. children can learn about discrimination on the playground. they can be subject to bullying and harassment from their fellow classmates. it took professor evil to actually teach children how to do it. an anti-racism lesson that can actually train a child to be a racist!
children need to be taught how to act morally and not immorally. racism is learned. arguably, professor evil was the teacher. students want to impress their teachers. do you think when the children were playing the oppressor role that they wanted to do a good job as being the oppressor? do you think they wanted to make their best efforts to be nasty and horrible to others?
in sum, immoral conduct can be taught by those who believe that they are teaching morality. there is no make-up racism. it is all real. especially to the ones asked to act like a racist.
2 thoughts on “Professor Evil? A Famous Lesson in Anti-Racism? Or was it a Lesson in Racism?”
Evil is sometimes innate in some people, but mostly a learned behavior. teaching children to act as someone who hates and others as hated is a deeply concerning experiment. The stated goal is not true goal and the result is debasing of values in either direction. Educators are the least accountable element in our society while possessing the greatest actual long term power