Pushing the boundaries

This video came across my social media today and it has gotten me thinking. Have a look (even for a bit) before you read on;

Yes, this is the Blue Eye Brown Eye lady, Jane Elliot continuing her quest to truly allow students to appreciate the presence of racism in the world. It reminded me of a class in my undergrad course called Social Contexts of Education. It explored the role of education as an institution and more relevantly for this topic, forced me to come to terms with my whiteness. I was brought up well by my parents and honestly believed I was not a racist person. I’m not, and I wasn’t, but what I learned in this course was to understand that I could never really understand discrimination, because as a white middle class male, I have always been pretty much exempt from it. Despite my empathy, it never happened to me.

The experience shown in the video above is the type of thing that I think everyone should go through to understand what it means to be treated differently. I’m getting to my point here: How much do we push our students to understand the experiences of others in the world? While the above practice is extreme, as was the original blue eye brown eye was, it is important to give our students an education not only of the Standardised Testing subjects, but of how to be a global citizen.

I’m not saying we need to subject students to the harsh realities of the world before they are ready for it, but I do believe that the best way to begin this process is to put students into situations where they feel uncomfortable. We all know about zones of proximal development, and that it is important to extend students out of their comfort zone. Sometimes though, we need to push that little bit further to really let students feel that things are different once they move out of their youthful bubbles of familiarity. Of course this can be done sensitively and with due consideration of individual differences.

When was the last time you gave your students the opportunity to be uncomfortable?


A closing quote from Jane Elliot

“No. You don’t come back in here until you’ve apologized to every person in this room because you just exercised a freedom that none of these people of color have. When these people of color get tired of racism, they can’t just walk out because there’s no place in this country where they aren’t going to be exposed to racism. They can’t even stay in their own homes and not be exposed to racism if they turn on their television. But you, as a white female, when you get tired of being judged and treated unfairly on the basis of your eye color, you can walk out that door, and you know it won’t happen out there. You exercised a freedom they don’t have. If you’re going to be in here, you’re going to apologize to every black person in this room. And do it now … and every person of color.”