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Jane Elliott and Jonathan Kozol

Jane Elliott and Jonathan Kozol

Author: Paul Hannan

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 Explosion; Public Domain Explosion; Public Domain

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Welcome this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on important studies of inequality in education. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So I'm going to start today by explaining to you, this idea of the reproduction theory. And this reproduction theory really comes out of the social conflict approach. And again, the social conflict approach is saying that society is really set up as a conflict over resources. And you have certain social structures that are in place that are keeping people in power, and other ones that are limiting people from getting power.

And reproduction theory, specifically, we're going to look at it within the context of education here. And what it's doing is keeping people powerful in society. And this really this myth of education. This theory would argue that education as a system here, we like to say that it exists, and everyone can have a chance at education. And we champion people who come from a rough background. And they get their degree, and they work really hard, and they become successful.

But this is really a myth, is what this theory says, and that most people, that doesn't work for them. And that the reason why we sell, as a society, we sell that idea of that education and hard work are going to give you a chance to become rich and powerful, well that is because you need to have that hope to keep you in your place. And the reality is that you have a very slim chance of being able to become rich and powerful.

Now let's look at a couple different studies that looked at different aspects of this theory, and just in general how there's inequalities in our schooling system. Jonathan Kozol, it says he's a school teacher. But is actually much more than a school teacher. He's a political activist. He's a writer. He's many things. But he started, his whole focus here on education, really, his foundation is as a schoolteacher. And what it is, he taught in Boston. And he had two very different teaching experiences. He taught once in the beginning of his career. He worked in an inner city school. And then he worked out in the suburbs.

And in this inner city school, and the suburbs school, we saw two very, very different things happening on many, many levels. And he saw this, the giant inequalities and the differences that are happening in these two different schools. So the inner city school had very limited funding, ancient textbooks, decrepit facilities, poor teachers, just a list, laundry list, of all these strikes against that are making it much harder for kids to get a successful education. And the kids are really, their educational suffering because of that.

And then contrast his life out in the suburbs, where you had schools with really nice facilities and up-to-date textbooks, and really nice technology, and better teachers, and all these other things that are really helping their education be better, and helping those kids get a leg up on the world.

And after his experience personally teaching in those two different environments, he actually went around the country. And he wrote this book called Savage Inequalities, really looking at these differences and trying to highlight them for people to see.

I like to think of his work as a combination of personal experience and qualitative research. So he's in there, and he's seeing what he sees in his own eyes. And he's writing these descriptive responses, where his data is this really detail oriented language that is explaining a situation. So it's not really a numbers based analysis.

Now another person that was really interested in inequalities in schools was Jane Elliott. Now Jane Elliott is first and foremost a school teacher. And she's really known for this experiment she did with her students. And she taught in a small town in Iowa. And this was at the time of the racial upheaval of the civil rights movement. And then she also ties this to what she's going to end up doing, this experiment, in with what happened with Nazis and the Jews in Germany.

So what Elliott did is that she divided her class into blue eyed kids and brown eyed kids. And she set up a whole class structure there that gave privilege to blue eyed kids and gave disadvantages to brown eyed kids. And they could be as simple as who gets to go out to lunch first, who gets to be on the nice equipment at the playground.

And so she ran this experiment in her classroom. And it really mimicked some of the social privileges and disadvantages that have been seen in society, when it comes to race or ethnicity or religion. Now what she found is that very quickly, the students really adapted these privileges as a part of their psyche. Students who were brown eyed saw themselves as lesser, and students who had blue eyes saw themselves as better. And she really helped highlight the fact that these structural inequalities, even if we disagree with them or we don't really understand them, we end up adopting them as our own, even if they're bad for us. They become part of who we really are.

Now something similar to Jane Elliott's work is this idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this is something that often happens when you're looking at inequalities in schools. And the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy is that you expect a certain behavior for someone. And then you end up encouraging that very behavior. And this encouraging could be on purpose or not on purpose. You probably don't even notice. But that's what that self-fulfilling prophecy is.

So in educational settings, that could be when a teacher comes in, and they look at their class list. And they see that these five names are from this really poor neighborhood. They're like, oh, well these kids are going to be a handful. They're going to be trouble. And then they look at their list, and they see these five kids from a really nice neighborhood. They're like oh, well these guys are going to be really smart and successful and courteous.

Well that teacher's behavior, then, ends up making that come true, what they predicted. Right away, when those five kids that they know come from the low income area, they treat them differently, because they expect them to be bad. And they treat the other five kids differently, because they expect to be good. And that actually ends up making them act good or bad.

So today's takeaway message, we looked at reproduction theory, which is this theory that argues that institutions sustain and/or perpetuate characteristics of a given social structure. We also looked at Jonathan Kozol, was an American educator who researched how schools operated to pass on advantages and disadvantages onto children. We also looked at Jane Elliott, a schoolteacher from Iowa, who tested this idea of privilege using blown out and blue eyed students in her class. And then we also looked at a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that's a situation where someone expects something to happen to yourself or to other people, and then encourages that very behavior. And that can happen in knowingly or not knowingly.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

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.