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Jane Elliott and Jonathan Kozol

Jane Elliott and Jonathan Kozol

Author: Zach Lamb

Examine the research of Jane Elliot and Jonathan Kozol, and the implications of their studies.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello. Welcome to Sociological Studies. Thank you for joining me. We've got an interesting lesson. We're going to discuss the Jane Elliott experiment and the work of Jonathan Kozol, who looked at racial and class differences in schools with respect to school funding. Firstly, the Jane Elliott experiment.

She divided her classroom into two groups, students with brown eyes and students with blue eyes. And she told them that the students with brown eyes were better students. They were more gifted. They were smarter. Students with blue eyes were less smart. They didn't achieve as much as the students with brown eyes.

Well, why did she do this? She did it because the Martin Luther King assassination occurred. She was teaching at that time. And a student asked her, well, why did he get assassinated. And it opened up this discussion of race and racism. And so she asked the students about it, and she was shocked to find some of the prejudiced attitudes that her students had.

So she divided the students this way as a way to make artificial distinctions that don't really mean anything to show them that these can have meaning. And so, sure enough, before long, students started to behave differently with respect to what Elliott had told them. The brown-eyed students started to act differently. They started to act superior, entitled. And the blue-eyed students, by the end of the day, were acting very down and defeated and submissive. And so Elliott eventually broke the experiment and told them, like, look. This is what can happen when you label somebody a certain way. Even though this doesn't mean anything, the label and the category has meaning.

So Jane Elliott's experiment, then, reveals the extent to which we can become victims of self-fulfilling prophecies, which are situations where you expect something to happen, either to yourself or to others, and knowingly or not, then you encourage that outcome or you encourage that very behavior, and then self-fulfill the prophecy. Jane Elliott's experiments also reveal the symbolic interaction basis to human group, human interaction, because the labels that were given then became things that were real. We constructed the differences through our interactions. So this hits on the symbolic interaction perspective as well.

Next let's discuss Jonathan Kozol, who was a teacher, researcher, and education activist. He was first a teacher and had the opportunity to experience school districts in the inner city and in suburban areas. And he found that the inner city schools were filled with students with lower socioeconomic standing. The value of property around the schools, and public schools get a lot of money from property taxes, was so low. Families were poor. They had virtually little property taxes coming in to help the school.

But in suburban areas, property taxes were much higher. Families were much wealthier and had a higher socioeconomic standing. So Kozol observed huge disparities between suburban and city schools in terms of just everyday teaching implements, like books and desks. And things like that needed to run the school were severely lacking in the city schools but were fine in suburban schools. So he thought this was extremely unjust, and he wrote a book. He went on to look at school-- this is when he became then, a researcher. He went on to look at different schools throughout cities in the country, and wrote a book called Savage Inequalities, in which he documents these disparities in teaching resources between school districts and the different amounts of property taxes in each institutional setting. So he was a teacher first and a sociologist and qualitative researcher second. And later, then traveling activist talking about his findings.

Kozol's work gives support to what we call reproduction theory, or the idea that social institutions sustain or perpetuate the characteristics of a given social structure. So if you are a poor student and you go to a poor school, you're going to probably end up a poor person and not do that well in life and vice versa. So reproduction theory, then, instructs us to think about how the social institutions in society help to perpetuate and sustain the status quo.

So, for example, the education system perpetuates the inequalities in society, specifically class divides. We now have, in some places, even what's emerging as a two-tiered education system. And Chicago is a great example. You have the CPS, or the Chicago Public School system, and then a whole wealth of other private schools that cater to students who don't want to go to the CPS, parents who have the money to send their students elsewhere, to fancier, more specialized, private schools that cost a lot of money. So in Chicago, they have a little bit of a problem with a two-tiered education system, which then reproduction theory would help us to see that, well, maybe this two-tiered education system helps to reproduce class divides in society.

Well I hope you enjoyed this discussion of Jane Elliott and Jonathan Kozol. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Jane Elliot Experiment

Jane Elliot, anĀ American school teacher from Iowa, developed the blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise to teach white third graders about racism. This experiment divided the class into privileges and disadvantages associated with eye color to mimic social privileges and disadvantages based on race.

Jonathan Kozol Reproduction Theory

Jonathan Kozol, an American educator and activist, has extensively researched how schools operate to pass advantage and disadvantage on to children through a process called social reproduction.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A situation where you expect something to happen to yourself or others, and knowingly or not, encourage that outcome.