In the Eyes of Children

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated with a dream unrealized, where men of all colors, races and creeds could coexist without the racial schism that he had to endure throughout life. With his passing, a huge portion of the world wept. If it were not for the moral strength of people like Jane Elliott, we would not have achieved the freedoms that many of us currently take for granted. In the days following Dr. King’s death, Elliot devised an experiment to convey, to the children of her third grade class, the experiences that black Americans have had to endure, in an effort to explain what King was fighting for. She segregated the class by eye color and alternated two days of instruction where each of the two sects was given a chance to experience the deprived and oppressed side, with the other being held in a bright light. Although the parents questioned her morality, subjecting their children to such a difficult exercise, it does not appear to be founded in reason or logic that she was conducting herself immorally. Jane introduces topics regarding racism as a necessary part of learning which must be included in our education system. Given that we agree that it is more moral to be less racist this is the perfect age at which children should be taught about racism.

Display of The upside down U.S. Flag is an official indication of distress. According to the U.S. Flag Code, it is never to be flown as such except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger of life or property. This was one of the first images we were shown in the introduction to Elliott’s video, Blue Eyed, and it carries with it the implication that what is to follow adheres to this statute. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” so it follows that Elliott is motivated by her morals, standing up to continue the fight that Martin Luther King was unable to realize in its entirety. The fight for civil rights and against racism is one that has far-reaching implications for every person, regardless of her race. Elliott is trying to teach privileged America that racism is real and that its effects are far more distressing than they may already believe. She is determined to get people to realize that they cannot stand by and just exist while racism is continued: “People, the only thing necessary for the perpetuation of evil is for good people to do nothing” (Blue Eyed). She has invested the lives of her family into furthering the goals of Dr. King and it is clear that she is going to accomplish this aim in the best way she can find.

The Blue Eyed documentary focuses on a workshop that Elliot conducted with adults in an attempt to impart some of the experiences of her infamous third grade class experiment. These adults are volunteers, and those who have been ordered to this workshop as a form of sensitivity training, with the goal of better understanding the effects that the underclass and oppressed people have to endure on a day-to-day basis, and as such, they are treated quite harshly. Elliot scolds a man who is proving to be difficult, “Honey, if you want caring, go to your mother. Do I look like your mother to you.” She follows this up with calling the man ‘boy’ repeatedly and the process of breaking him down and getting him to realize the power of this form of oppression has begun (Blue Eyed). Later in the movie, he shows that this is an emotionally difficult series of events when he cries. As nice as it would be to believe that the tears are sincere, it is important to recognize that they are volunteers and many of them know each other, providing them with some form of comfort. The man’s actions come across as contrived and unnatural. This attempt to impart racial understanding may have missed its mark and possibly even done some form of injustice to the message Elliot had initially intended.

Children are often the best conduits of truth and justice. They are not yet entirely aware of their ability to guise their feelings and thoughts, and they tend to empathize with others in a more genuine way than adults do. In Elliott’s earlier experiments, she took pictures of the children and had them pour their feelings into art in order to get a glimpse into their mindset. Milton contrasts the two states like night and day. When he was in the top group he drew an image of yellow, as if in the light of the sun or heaven, with an angel on his head, and when he is on the bottom he draws himself with a devil on his shoulder entirely shrouded in darkness and fire. It is difficult to ignore the figurative imagery that is used by this child when compared to the semi-contrived tears we saw earlier from the adult. In addition, it is also easier to recognize the child’s sincerity in his artistry. We must also take into account the children’s expressive actions when they are freed from their collars and allowed to resume their lives without the oppressiveness.

It has been said that children do not understand racism. As such, if they are in a situation where they have to interact with someone of a different race they will likely work together with them as though they are one and the same. It is not until later in life that we are indoctrinated into our racial cliques and learn how being different is a terrible thing. Elliott takes full advantage of this fact to help keep the minds of her third grade class as racially accepting as possible. While the experiment may have been traumatic for the children, it is important to also note that their experiences were short-termed and moderated by an instructor with an agenda directed at making sure they do not forget it but without the intention of it actually hurting them. The children are pushed to the boundaries where they are able to experience the sadness and oppressive nature of racism, but they are not intimidated by force; they go home to resume their lives. It is much more difficult for them to scoff or brush off the events in comparison to the adults who have already built up their defense mechanisms and hardened themselves to the world.

With the fact that many adults have already closed off and become difficult to reach, children become the only option. Racism is something that makes life for minorities very difficult, so with our moral compass pointing steadily towards helping everyone it is obviously more efficient, necessary, and moral for children to learn about it rather than hoping they learn about racism along the way to adulthood. Elliott deserves to be recognized for her efforts in bridging this gap because of her ability to realize that she was capable of enacting such a brazen lesson on the children of her classroom. She chose to put her life and liberty on the line almost in spite of what she knew would happen to her, as was evidenced by the man who inspired her to begin her work in the first place. Riding on the shirttails of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elliott has taken another step towards affirming the dream that so many of us are awaiting, to this day.