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
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.
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]