VARIOUS TEXTS: Brown Eyes Versus Blue Eyes or What the power of authority can do to people

Creating Little Elementary School Beasties: Brown Eyes Versus Blue Eyes
The power of authorities is demonstrated not only in the extent to which they can command obedience from followers, but also in the extent to which they can define reality and alter habitual ways of thinking and acting. Case in point: Jane EIliott, a popular third-grade schoolteacher in the small rural town of Riceville, Iowa. Her challenge: how to teach white children from a small farm town with few minorities about the meaning of "brotherhood" and "tolerance". She decided to have them experience personally what it feels like to be an underdog and also the top dog, either the victim or the perpetrator of prejudice.

This teacher arbitrarily designated one part of her class as superior to the other part, which was inferior-based only on their eye color. She began by informing her students that people with blue eyes were superior to those with brown eyes and gave a variety of supporting "evidence" to illustrate this truth, such as George Washington's having blue eyes and, closer to home, a student's father (who, the student had complained, had hit him) having brown eyes.

Starting immediately, said Ms. Elliott, the children with blue eyes would be the special "superior" ones and the brown-eyed ones would be the "inferior" group. The allegedly more intelligent blue-eyes were given special privileges, while the inferior brown-eyes had to obey rules that enforced their second-class status, including wearing a collar that enabled others to recognize their lowly status from a distance.

The previously friendly blue-eyed kids refused to play with the bad "brown-eyes," and they suggested that school officials should be notified that the brown-eyes might steal things. Soon fistfights erupted during recess, and one boy admitted hitting another "in the gut" because, "He called me brown-eyes, like being a black person, like a Negro." Within one day, the brown-eyed children began to do more poorly in their schoolwork and became depressed, sullen, and angry. They described themselves as "sad," "bad," "stupid," and "mean."

The next day was turnabout time, Mrs. Elliott told the class that she had been wrong - it was really the brown-eyed children who were superior and the blue-eyed ones who were inferior, and she provided specious new evidence to support this chromatic theory of good and evil. The blue-eyes now switched from their previously "happy," "good," "sweet," and "nice" self-labels to derogatory labels similar to those adopted the day before by the brown-eyes. Old friendship patterns between children temporarily dissolved and were replaced by hostility until this experiential project was ended and the children were carefully and fully debriefed and returned to their joy-filled classroom.

The teacher was amazed at the swift and total transformation of so many of her students whom she thought she knew so well. Mrs. Elliott concluded, "What had been marvelously cooperative, thoughtful children became nasty, vicious, discriminating little third-graders.... It was ghastly!"
485 words

1. Summarize Mrs. Elliott's experiment in your own words in no more than 150 words.
2. What did Mrs. Elliott want to teach her children?
3. Do you think the experiment would have born similar results if it had been carried out with older students?

Text from:

amazon.de The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
Philip G. Zimbardo

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