Watch a teacher make her 3rd-grade kids hate each other for the best reason imaginable

I saw this video in college, and I immediately changed my major.

In the clip, a teacher in Iowa, Jane Elliott, conducts a study on her students that will be talked about for decades. She re-creates segregation and racism in her classroom using a "brown eyes/blue eyes" experiment. She flips the entire class on their heads by switching the roles and makes a most profound discovery about us all. In the end, the students learn something the world today is still struggling to.

There are too many great moments to point out. The payoff at the end is brilliant and a perfect metaphor for what we deal with and face every day in our society. Like "Catcher in the Rye" is to high school students, this is part of your Upworthy required reading.

Note: The 1970 ABC News video clip accompanying this post was removed from YouTube and other outlets. But the full documentary about the experiment including original news footage, "A Class Divided," is available for free on the PBS "Frontline" website (Flash player version). You can also watch it in full here:

Show Transcript Hide Transcript

Jane Elliott: This is a special week. Does anybody know what it is?

Children: Brotherhood.

Jane Elliott: National Brotherhood Week. What's brotherhood?

Girl: Be kind to your brothers?

Jane Elliott: Okay, be kind to your brothers...

Boy: you would like to be treated.

Jane Elliott: Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. Treat everyone as though he was your...

Children: Brother...

Jane Elliott: Brother. And is there anyone in this United

States that we do not treat as our brothers?

Children: Yeah...

Jane Elliott: Who?

Children: Black people.

Jane Elliott: The black people. Who else?

Sandra: Indians?

Jane Elliott: Absolutely, the Indians. And when you see, when many people see a black person or a yellow person or a red person, what do they think?

Sandra: Look at that...dumb people.

Jane Elliott: Look at the dumb people. What else do they think sometimes? What kind of things do they say about black people?

Greg: They call them Negros, niggers...

Jane Elliott: In the city, many places in the United States, how are black people treated? How are Indians treated? How are people who are of a different color than we are treated?

Greg: Like they're not part of this world. They don't get anything in this world.

Jane Elliott: Why is that?

Greg: Because they're a different color.

Jane Elliott: Do you think you know how it would feel to be judged by the color of your skin?

Children: Yeah...

Jane Elliott: Do you think you do? No, I don't think you'd know how that felt unless you had been through it, would you? It might be interesting to judge people today by the color of their eyes...would you like to try this?

Children: Yeah!

Jane Elliott: Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Since I'm the teacher and I have blue eyes, I think maybe the blue-eyed people should be on top the first day.

Boy: And up here?

Jane Elliott: I mean the blue-eyed people are the better people in this room.

Boy: Huh uh.

Jane Elliott: Oh yes they are--blue-eyed people are smarter than brown-eyed people.

Children: Huh uh.

Brian: My dad isn't that...stupid.

Jane Elliott: Is your dad brown-eyed?

Brian: Yeah.

Jane Elliott: One day you came to school and you told us that he kicked you.

Brian: He did.

Jane Elliott: Do you think a blue-eyed father would kick his son?

My dad's blue-eyed, he's never kicked me. Ray's dad is blue-eyed, he's never kicked him. Rex's dad is blue-eyed, he's never kicked him. This is a fact. Blue-eyed people are better than brown-eyed people. Are you brown-eyed or blue-eyed?

Brian: Blue.

Jane Elliott: Why are you shaking your head?

Brian: I don't know.

Jane Elliott: Are you sure that you're right? Why? What makes you sure that you're right?

Brian: I don't know.

Jane Elliott: The blue-eyed people get five extra minutes of recess, while the brown-eyed people have to stay in.

Brian: Ooooh.

Jane Elliott: The brown-eyed people do not get to use the drinking fountain. You'll have to use the paper cups. You brown-eyed people are not to play with the blue-eyed people on the playground, because you are not as good as blue-eyed people. The brown-eyed people in this room today are going to wear collars. So that we can tell from a distance what color your eyes are. On page 127--one hundred twenty-seven. Is everyone ready? Everyone but Laurie. Ready, Laurie?

Child: She's a brown-eye.

Jane Elliott: She's a brown-eye. You'll begin to notice today that we spend a great deal of time waiting for brown-eyed people. The yardstick's gone, well okay. I don't see the yardstick, do you?

Rex: It's probably over there.

Raymond: Hey, Mrs. Elliott, you better keep that on your desk so if the brown people, the brown-eyed people get out of hand...

Jane Elliott: Oh, you think if the brown-eyed people get out of hand, that would be the thing to use. Who goes first to lunch?

Children: The blue eyes.

Jane Elliott: The blue-eyed people. No brown-eyed people go back for seconds. Blue-eyed people may go back for seconds. Brown-eyed people do not.

Brian: Why not the brown-eyes?

Jane Elliott: Don't you know?

Child: They're not smart.

Jane Elliott: Is that the only reason?

Child: ...afraid they'll take too much.

Jane Elliott: They might take too much. Okay, quietly now...not a sound.

Child #1: It seemed like when we were down on the bottom, everything bad was happening to us.

Child #2: The way they treated you, you felt like you didn't even want to try to do anything.

Child #3: It seemed like Mrs. Elliott was taking our best friends away from us.

Jane Elliott: What happened at recess? Were two of you boys fighting?

Children: Russell and John were.

Jane Elliott: What happened, John?

John: Russell called me names and I hit him. Hit him in the gut.

Jane Elliott: What did he call you?

John: Brown eyes.

Jane Elliott: Did you call him brown eyes?

Child #1: They always call us that...

Child #2: Come here, brown eyes...

Child #3: They were calling us blue eyes.

Child #4: I wasn't.

Child #5: Sandy and Donna were...

Child #6: Yeah.

Jane Elliott: What's wrong with being called brown eyes?

Roy: It means that we're stupider and--well, not that...

Raymond: Oh, that's just the same way as other people call black people niggers.

Jane Elliott: Is that the reason you hit him, John? Did it help? Did it stop him? Did it make you feel better inside? Make you feel better inside? Did it make you feel better to call him brown eyes? Why do you suppose you called him brown eyes?

Brian: Because he has brown eyes?

Jane Elliott: Is that the only reason? He didn't call him brown eyes yesterday and he had brown eyes yesterday. Didn't he?

Child: We just started this...

Brian: ...yeah, ever since you put those blue things on.

Child: They tease him.

Jane Elliott: Oh, is this teasing?

Brian: No...when he did it, it was.

Jane Elliott: Were you doing it for fun--to be funny, or were you doing it to be mean?

Russell: Mean?

Jane Elliott: I don't know, don't ask me.

JANE ELLIOTT: I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating, little third-graders in a space of fifteen minutes.

Jane Elliott: Yesterday, I told you that brown-eyed people aren't as good as blue-eyed people. That wasn't true. I lied to you yesterday.

Brian: Ooh boy, here we go again.

Jane Elliott: The truth is that brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people.

Children: (Laughter)

Jane Elliott: Russell, where are your glasses?

Russell: I forgot them.

Jane Elliott: You forgot them. And what color are your eyes?

Russell: Blue.

Children: (Laughter)

Jane Elliott: Susan Ginder has brown eyes. She didn't forget her glasses. Russell Ring has blue eyes and what about his glasses?

Children: He forgot them.

Jane Elliott: He forgot them. Yesterday we were visiting and Greg said, "Boy, I like to hit my little sister as hard as I can, that's fun." What does that tell you about blue-eyed people?

Children: They're fact, they fight a lot...

Jane Elliott: The brown-eyed people may take off their collars. And each of you may put your collar on a blue-eyed person. The brown-eyed people get five extra minutes of recess. You blue-eyed people are not allowed to be on the playground equipment at any time. You blue-eyed people are not to play with the brown-eyed people. Brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people. They are smarter than blue-eyed people and if you don't believe it, look at Brian. Do blue-eyed people know how to sit in a chair? Very sad. Very very sad. Who can tell me what contraction should be in the first sentence? Go to the board and write this, John. Come on, let's do it again, loosen up. Up up up! Come on. That's better. Now, do you know how to make a W? Okay, write the contraction for we are. Now that's beautiful writing! Is that better?

Children: Yes.

Jane Elliott: Brown-eyed people learn fast, don't they?

Children: Yeah.

Jane Elliott: Boy, do brown-eyed people learn fast. Very good. Greg, what did you do with that cup? Will you please go and get that cup and put your name on it and keep it at your desk. Blue-eyed people are wasteful. Okay. Want to be timed this morning?

Children: Yeah

JANE ELLIOTT: I use phonics. We use the card pack, and the children, the brown-eyed children were in the low class the first day and it took them five and a half minutes to get through the card pack. The second day it took them two and a half minutes. The only thing that had changed was the fact that now they were superior people.

Jane Elliott: You went faster than I ever had anyone go through the card pack. Why couldn't you get them yesterday?

Donna: We had those collars on.

Jane Elliott: You think the collars kept you...Oh, and you couldn't think as well with the collars on. Four minutes and eighteen seconds.

Raymond: I knew we weren't going to make it.

Child: Neither did I.

Jane Elliott: How long did it take you yesterday?

Children: Three minutes.

Jane Elliott: Three minutes. How long did it take you today?

Children: Four minutes and eighteen seconds.

Jane Elliott: What happened?

Child: Went down.

Jane Elliott: Why? What were you thinking of?

Rex: This.

Jane Elliott: I hate today.

Rex: You do? I hate it too.

Jane Elliott: Because I'm blue-eyed.

Rex: See, I am too.

Jane Elliott: It's not funny, it's not fun, it's not pleasant. This is a filthy, nasty word called discrimination. We're treating people a certain way because they are different from the rest of us. Is that fair?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Nothing fair about it. We didn't say this was going to be a fair day, did we?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: And it isn't. It's a horrid day. Okay, you ready? What did you blue--people who are wearing blue collars now find out today?

Child: I know what they felt like yesterday.

Greg: I do too.

Jane Elliott: How did they feel yesterday?

Greg: Like a dog on a leash.

Raymond: Yeah--like you're chained up in a prison and they throw the key away.

Jane Elliott: Should the color of some other person's eyes have anything to do with how you treat them?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: All right, then should the color of their skin?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Should you judge people...

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: By the color of their skin?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: You're going to say that today. And this week and probably all the time you're in this room. You'll say, (in a mocking, sing-song fashion) Nooo, Mrs. Elliott...

Children: Nooo...

Jane Elliott: Every time I ask that question.

Children: No, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: Then when you see a black man or an Indian or someone walking down the street, are you going to say, "Ha ha, look at that silly-looking thing"?

Children: No, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: Does it make any difference whether their skin is black or white?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Or yellow? Or red?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Is that how you decide whether people are good or bad?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Is that what makes people good or bad?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Let's take these collars off. What would you like to do with them?

Children: Throw them away.

Jane Elliott: Go ahead! Now you know a little bit more than you knew at the beginning of this week.

Children: Yes...a lot...

Jane Elliott: Do you know a little bit more than you wanted to?

Children: (In a joking sing-song) Yes, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: This isn't an easy way to learn this, is it?

Children: (In a joking sing-song) No, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: (Pretending anger) Oh, will you stop that!

Children: (Laughter)

Jane Elliott: Okay, now let's all sit down here together, blue eyes and brown eyes. Does it make any difference what color your eyes are?

Children: No.

Jane Elliott: Down, girl...

Children: (Laughter)

Jane Elliott: Okay, ready to listen now? Okay, now are you back?

Children: Yes!

Jane Elliott: Does that feel better?

Children: Yes.

Jane Elliott: Does the color of eyes that you have make any difference in the kind of person you are?

Children: (Mockingly) No, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: Does that feel like being home again, girls?

Children: (Mockingly) Yes, Mrs. Elliott.

Jane Elliott: (Pretends to be angry) Oh, will you stop it?

There may be small errors in this transcript.

"A Class Divided" is available via PBS or via YouTube.

Jun 25, 2013

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