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Powerful Segregation Simulation

January 12, 2012

I’ve done this activity to help my students get a better understanding to intolerance. It is a powerful activity that effects everyone involved. It is based on a similar activity done in 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. This is a video taken 2 years later of the teacher, called A Class Divided.  It is a very powerful video.

I start the day with posting signs on the front door of the school, “Blue eye children must enter from the side door”.  I also have signs at the drinking fountains and in the classroom excluding the blue eye children from areas in the room, certain chairs they could sit in, where they could go in the library.  You can set any perimeters that you’d like,  but you want to have them experience the feeling of injustice in doing this in a short period of time.

Once my students are in the classroom, I explain that we are doing an “experiment” today and that we’ll talk about the “experiment” at the end of the day.  Then I hand out an armband (or an enlarged picture of an eye to pin on their shirt) for the blue eyed people to wear so they can be identified from a distance. When they would ask why they can’t sit with their friends or use a chair, I explain simply, “Because they are blue eyed people.”  This is hard to do, especially when you can see the hurt in their eyes and you know they feel this is so unfair.  But that is why the experiment makes such an impact.

After lunch we switch roles.  The brown eyed people are excluded from using the chairs, etc.  The blue eyed people are relieved and are overjoyed to get to sit in a chair, go to the bathroom.

At the end of the day it is important to bring everyone together and tell them the “experiment” is over.  Everyone can sit in the any chairs and use the water fountain just like yesterday.  The feeling of joy is very evident.  I asked my students:

  • Why did I have them do this “experiment”?
  • How did it make them feel?
  • Are the blue eyed people better than the brown eyed people and vice versa?
  • Does this happen in the real world?

Explain how at one time blacks were horribly discriminated against.   Since it seems unthinkable now, explain that in history cultures have been singled out. Here are some images that I found that helped my students start discussing and getting a better feel of the way it was.





It seems unthinkable now but 50 years ago, it wasn’t and there have been other cultures discriminated against, as well as blacks.  Its important that children embrace diversity and not to stand by when others are treated unfairly.

Lead the discussion back to why Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated.  You might want to read some of the books that are available on Martin Luther Kings Jr. life.  Some books are written for kids but it doesn’t really give them a feel of how different things were.   You may want to watch the I Have a Dream speech  with your students or talk about the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  Believing that change can happen through non-violence.  A quote from him is:

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

This is an newspaper article about the response of parents to the simulation of segregation.

Let me know what your students thought.




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