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Blue-Eyes, Brown-Eyes:
The Experiment that Shocked the Nation
And Turned a Town Against its Most Famous Daughter

Stephen G. Bloom, School of Journalism
The University of Iowa

Stephen G. Bloom is the author of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America and a collection of his nonfiction stories entitled, Writing Narrative Journalism: Inside the Writer's Mind. He has worked as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, San Jose Mercury News, and Sacramento Bee. Bloom is currently writing a biography of Jane Elliott, the Iowa schoolteacher who originated the famous brown-eyes, blue-eyes experiment, in which third-graders were conditioned to become racists. He is professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Iowa.

Abstract: The story of Riceville, Iowa schoolteacher Jane Elliott and her famous blue-eyes, brown-eyes experiment, which demonstrated to white children what it was like to be black in America. On April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elliott separated her class of third-graders according to their eye color and was able to turn mild-mannered children into bullies. Two weeks later, Elliott appeared on the Johnny Carson Show, then went to the White House, and in 1970, ABC aired a documentary on her groundbreaking experiment. Elliott's family was subsequently harassed - her parents' restaurant was boycotted, her daughter was called a "nigger-lover," her son beaten up - and she ultimately forced out of her Riceville, Iowa, teaching job. Elliott went on to become the "mother" of diversity training, importing her behavior-modification exercise to corporations such as McDonalds and General Motors, government agencies, as well as lecturing throughout the world. Much has been written about Elliott, but relatively little about the impact of her experiment she pioneered in Riceville from 1968-84. In this paper, the author interviews more than 40 of Elliott’s former students to discover what long-term effects, if any, the experiment had.

 

[Friday, April 22; 4-5:30 PM; 302 Schaeffer Hall]

 

 

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