Lesson Learned

In 1968, a third grade teacher named Jane Elliott decided to take an unconventional approach to teaching about inequality. She divided her students into brown-eyed and blue-eyed groups. Each day, she told one group they were more superior than the other. The children learned an important, enduring lesson over those two days about the injustice of discrimination, which was documented by PBS Frontline.

This approach allowed the children to learn directly from experience, a type of education our philosophers touted. Like in Emile, the teacher set up the circumstances for the children to learn. Unlike Emile, however, these children could not opt out of their lesson if they were not interested in participating. Many of our most radical philosophers on education suggested that students should be able to learn whatever they want and not be forced to learn things in which they have no interest. Many of the third graders at the time did not want to participate on the day they were in the inferior group because they did not enjoy the feelings associated with their position.

Years after the experiment, the students came together for a school reunion. They discussed the two-day experiment and all determined they were glad to have learned such an essential lesson. Had they been able to control their own educations they would not have experienced what they did. There are some things are people do not want to learn or experience, but they are important lessons that should be taught anyway.

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