University of Iowa News Release
July 6, 2004
UI Professor Seeks Former Riceville Students For Book On Iowa Teacher
Controversial teacher Jane Elliott (left) had a deep and profound impact on her Riceville, Iowa, students. Whether that impact was positive or negative will be debated in the pages of a forthcoming Smithsonian Magazine article and a book by award-winning journalist and University of Iowa professor Stephen G. Bloom, author of the best-selling book, "Postville: A Clash of Cultures In Heartland America."
After reading "Postville," Elliott sought Bloom to tell her story. She is the creator of the famous "blue eyes-brown eyes" classroom experiment, in which she attempted to show her white third graders what it would be like to be black.
The experiment began in 1968, just after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elliott divided her third-grade classroom based on eye color, and for one day brown-eyed students were told they were superior to blue-eyed students. They received more praise and privileges than blue-eyed students, including longer recess. Before the end of the day, the brown-eyed students became arrogant and demanding, and the blue-eyed students were frustrated and unable to perform simple exercises. Later, she switched the exercise, praising the blue-eyed students and ostracizing the brown-eyed students.
The students wrote short essays about the experience, and Elliott submitted their work to the local newspaper, which published them. The Associated Press picked up the story and soon Elliott and her experiment were known nationwide, spurred by an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, followed by an ABC news documentary. She continued using the exercise in her classroom until she left her teaching position in Riceville in 1984. She now incorporates it into diversity seminars she conducts worldwide.
Bloom (right) says these days Elliott's educational innovation is more praised outside Iowa than in her own state, where she still lives. Using Elliott's original class rosters and seating charts, Bloom is attempting to contact each of her students from 1968 through the late 1970s to find out how the exercise affected them then and now. So far he has talked to about two dozen of the more than 250 students Elliott taught. Their opinions differ, but all remember the exercise as though it happened yesterday, he says.
Bloom adds that the Elliott's story will "include the entire range of opinion -- from the good and the bad to the ugly." While Elliott has agreed to cooperate with Bloom, she has no control over the content of either the Smithsonian article or forthcoming book.
Bloom requests that Elliott's former students from Riceville Elementary contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-335-3368. Bloom says he will honor any former student's request to remain anonymous.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.