A Class Divided

A Class Divided is a documentary film that was produced following the assassination of Martin King Luther in 1968. It reveals an experiment carried out by Elliot, a teacher in Lowa, to teach her third grade students about how stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice can have profound negative impacts on the victim. She did this by dividing the children into two groups based on their eye colour; brown-eyed and blue-eyed. During the initial day, the blue-eyed students were assigned special privileges and told they were smarter than the brown-eyed students were. They received all kinds of praises and complements all day long whereas the brown-eyed students were discriminated against and told they were less intelligent. On the next day, the activities were reversed and now the brown-eyed students were superior and blue-eyed children inferior. By doing this, Elliot let the students walk in the shoes of the minority people who were often not privileged.  The experiment not only taught the students on the subject of discrimination and its impacts but also brought out something about self-fulfilling prophecy. This essay aims to answer questions about discrimination and its impacts and how stereotyping of the children became a self-fulfilling prophecy, while connecting the schoolchildren’s experience to The Thomas Theorem.

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First, discrimination started to take place when Elliot divided the children based on their eye colour. This kind of prejudice led to discrimination in that, the inferior group were treated unfairly and put down by Elliot. They were told that they were slow, dumb, poor listeners, and did not follow instructions. Everything that they did during that day was seen as wrong, and this caused them to look down upon themselves while the superior group became overly conceited. Elliot said to the inferior group that they were less intelligent, and whenever they made a mistake, she pointed out that it was because of their eye colour. She ascribed negative traits to the inferior group about everything they did, and positive traits to the superior group such as them being intelligent and smart. The superior group were given privileges such as drinking from the fountain and getting a longer recess. In order to differentiate the inferior from the superior group, the inferior group had to wear collars, and this automatically made them feel less important (Elliot, Cobb and King).

This kind of discrimination based on the children’s physical traits was typical of the stereotypes about blacks and whites at the time. The blacks were discriminated against because of their skin colour and this brought about racism.The racialist ideology of the majority group was used to define the minority as inferior. In view of the fact that the minority group (blacks) was marked inferior, they were conceived unfit for top ranking jobs, higher learning and responsible offices within the society. The black race was thus denied many privileges and opportunities even though they merited them. As a result, they were left with no other option but stick to low ranking occupations, and were poorly trained. This situation made the Blacks inferior and the Whites superior hence confirming the racist ideology (Macionis).

As she carried out this experiment, Miss Elliot was able to confirm the stereotypes she had assigned by observing her students behaviour. For instance, when she said that it was a well-known reality that blue-eyed people were smart and intelligent, the brown-eyed students immediately expressed disappointment. They slumped over their desks, and one even tried to disregard the teacher. Meanwhile, the blue-eyed children showed satisfaction and excitement. They sat upright in their desks and paid attention to their teacher to prove to her that what she had just said was in fact true. When Elliot gave them the phonic card test, the superior group was able to perform faster than the inferior group, and this acted as a confirmation of the stereotypes she had assigned (Elliot, Cobb and King).

Consequently, this experiment revealed the impacts of discrimination. Academically, the group that had been stereotyped as inferior performed poorly in the tests that were given during that day whilst the superior group excelled in their tests, as seen in the phonic card test. Tension was high. Violence between the blue-eyed and the brown-eyed children was another impact of discrimination as observed in the film. The students actually begun to tease and make fun of one another and some even got into physical fights all for the reason that the colour of their eyes was different. A clear example happened in the playing field during recess when a brown-eyed boy decided to punch one of the blue-eyed children for calling him ‘brown eyes’ (Elliot, Cobb and King). The brown-eyed boy took this as an offense since their teacher had earlier on told them that brown-eyed individuals were inferior to blue-eyed individuals. If this student had been called ‘brown eyes’ prior to their teacher labelling them as inferior and superior, the boy would not have felt offended at all since he had all along known that they were all equal.

Furthermore, discrimination also creates superiority complex and pride in the superior group. This was made evident when a blue-eyed boy, having been told that they were superior because of their eye colour, came in without wearing his glasses the following day purposely to sing his own praises about his dominant eye colour. Unfortunately, for him, the roles had been reversed and the minute he learned this he became humiliated and uncomfortable because of wounded pride. This is what the inferior group had felt all along, embarrassed. They had been hurt. The impacts of discrimination could easily be seen in the children’s body language. The children who wore collars looked upset. The collars alone automatically made them feel less important. In the playground, they could be seen just standing and not playing, as should have been the case. They were depressed. The superior group, on the other hand, could be seen walking majestically as though they owned the entire school. One of the blue-eyed children even said that he felt like a ruler as he was better and was thought to be more important. The superior group teased the inferior group and made fun of them. This made the inferior children walk in a drooping manner in order to hide their eye colour. Even in class, the difference could be observed, those termed as superior sat upright and the inferior ones slouched on their desks as they were embarrassed of their eye colour (Elliot, Cobb and King).

At the end of the experiment, Miss Elliot had managed to create a self-fulfilling prophecy amongst her third grade students. A self-fulfilling prophecy comes about when a person assumes something as the case when in reality that assumption is not true. This assumption in one way or another causes itself to be true when someone is wrongly influenced to believe it. When the children were told that they were inferior, they became confused and believed that their day was going to be dreadful.  This is because Miss Elliot was an authority figure; their teacher, and they all believed her. Miss Elliot influenced the prejudices by using eye colour to turn the cases against one another. Whichever group was termed as inferior and assigned inferior traits began to believe and act inferiorly. They performed poorly in class, had trouble interacting with their fellows and accounted feeling bad about themselves. On the contrary, the superior group acted and behaved just as superior class of people do. They excelled in class, made friends easily and felt important since they were given all privileges (Elliot, Cobb and King). This indicates their self-fulfilling prophecies.

Moreover, The Thomas Theorem was made apparent. The theorem states, "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". This theorem can be applied to what happened to the schoolchildren in that, prejudice and discrimination by eye color were the consequences of the children defining difference in eye color as real.Taking the Thomas Theorem further, stereotyping based on eye colour ideas can be viewed as a self-fulfilling prophecy (Macionis 99). This implies that the children lived up to the stereotypes that their teacher ascribed to them. When the children were regarded as inferior, they felt inferior and they acted in inferior ways both virtuously and conceptually.

Humans get confounded with feelings and opinions all the time, but their minds play tricks on them. It is hard to subdue stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice when these false impressions are hard-wired into their minds because of their daily lives. Prejudice and stereotypes have from the beginning mentally barred black people from fulfilling high expectations within the society. They are termed as inferior to the whites and highly discriminated against because of their race. A Class Divided has effectively tackled the issues of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination and its impacts.  It has also showed how stereotyping of the children resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy and how the whole occurrence relates to the Thomas Theorem. Indeed, the two-day experiment that Elliot conducted was one of the most telling lessons about discrimination. The children were able to learn that judging and discriminating other people based on their physical traits is wrong. It is a documentary that every person ought to watch.

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