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Divided by gender: An interview with Jane Elliott

Author(s): Elliot J


On the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa felt impelled to give her students a visceral experience of discrimination that they would never forget. She divided them into two groups and told them one was genetically inferior to the other. The next day, she reversed the hierarchy. It was a powerful exercise the children never forgot, and one which propelled teacher Jane Elliott to national attention. Our editor interviewed Elliott 40 years later, on February 4, 2008, just before the Democratic nomination process, on the topic of "Hate and Gender." *Editor's note: Any opinions expressed by the interviewee are hers alone and are not necessarily those of the Institute for Action Against Hate. EPPINGA: In 1968, you conducted your famous Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exer-cise, in which you told your third-graders that children of one eye color were superior in intelligence and were not to play with children of the other eye color, resulting in the supposedly superior group's tormenting of the "inferior" group. Do you see sexism as having the same sort of divisive quality as racism? ELLIOTT: Oh yes. It's not something we've been able to grow out of. I live in a retirement community now, and it's just as prevalent there among the older people.

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