Topic: Professions & Institutions

Old “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” is Back

Another example of ethical outrages at the hands of educators comes to Ethics Scoreboard courtesy of that watchdog of mindless political correctness in the schools, Taking her cue from the Sixties sociologist/teacher/Doctor Mengele impressionist Jane Elliott, who devised a student “game” called “Blue eyes- Brown eyes”, a 9th grade teacher in Lafayette, Illinois made some students wear blue cards around their necks to designate themselves as “inferior.” Other students, along with the teacher, wore yellow cards, and were treated as superior, receiving complements and submitting the inferior, blue-carded students to various indignities. The teacher ended the school day by telling the inferior group that they would receive failing grades for the day, and sent them home believing the lie.

Elliott’s Sixties version had dramatic effects, as she related in an interview. “It was just horrifying how quickly they became what I told them they were, ” she said, noting that described how one of the blue-eyed ( “inferior” in her version: oh, the irony!) girls changed from a “brilliant, self-confident carefree, excited little girl to a frightened, timid, uncertain little almost-person.”

“Horrifying.” So naturally the Illinois teacher felt it was just the ticket to impose on her own trusting and innocent students as a “diversity training exercise.” Here is irony: that those purporting to teach sensitivity are so spectacularly devoid of any themselves. That in pursuit of an ethical ideal, avoiding prejudice, a teacher would blithely violate the most basic ethical principles with dishonesty, abuse of power, and the intentional infliction of harm on others–children, in fact. When those who purport to be concerned with social justice and equality are completely unable to detect right from wrong, the wrong group is being trained. Schools might consider giving sensitivity and diversity training a hiatus until the trainers understand that putting young students under mental and emotional stress through the use of deception is no way to teach anything.

This disturbing episode is one more example of the ethical danger posed by zealotry in pursuit of any ideal. So revered is the goal that the zealot will ignore every other ethical principle in pursuit of it. And too often this occurs because the zealot has few other ethical values, so thoroughly has the one been extolled out of all proportion. The lawyer who puts “zealous representation” above human decency; the researcher willing to deceive and endanger volunteers to achieve the great cure; the theatrical director who forces his actors to open emotional wounds in pursuit of the brilliant performance; the political tactician who will circulate vicious lies so that “the good guys” win: all suffer from the self-righteous zealotry. Their conduct not only endangers the quest for an ethical society; it endangers lives. It is an insidious disease that we all should recognize, and take care that we do not become infected with our own strain.

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