jane elliott

Photo provided by Jane Elliott

Almost 53 years ago, a third-grade teacher in Iowa saw that her all-white class did not understand why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been murdered. Determined to show them the evils of racism, she invented an exercise still in use today.

Jane Elliott, creator of the blue eyes/brown eyes exercise, will speak at a virtual event hosted by Richland Library at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21. The program is free and open to the public.

Elliott’s notion of dividing children (for the exercise) based on the color of their eyes, and declaring the brown-eyed students superior, then reversing the positions the next day, was meant to expose them to the experience of racism.

The experiment drew worldwide attention (and quite a bit of backlash in 1968) after the students’ essays on “how discrimination feels” were published in a local newspaper and then picked up by the Associated Press. Elliott later appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Despite opposition, Elliott has become an internationally-known teacher, lecturer and diversity trainer, and a recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education. She has led training sessions for numerous major companies as well as the U.S. Navy and U.S. Department of Education.

“This country isn't a melting pot,” Elliott says. “Think of this country as a stir fry. That's what this country should be. A place where people are appreciated for who they are.”

The library event, A Candid Conversation with Jane Elliott, is free, but registration is required. More information is available at richlandlibrary.com.

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