A Class Divided, Then and Now by William Ernest Peters Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What is discrimination? In 1968 in Riceville, Iowa, students of all ages had little idea of what the word discrimination meant; and Jane Elliott was determined to change that. In A Class Divided, Then and Now, William Peters addresses the effects of discrimination in education by taking readers on the journey of Jane Elliott’s experiments with her third grade classes. Peters flawlessly appeals to all emotions by making Jane Elliott’s journey understandable and relatable by incorporating details, pictures, and quotes.
Appealing to all emotions, William Peters writes from Jane Elliots perspective, providing intimate snapshots into Jane Elliott’s life. Sparked by Martin Luther King’s brutal murder, Elliott “made her decision in horror, anger, and shame” she decided that “the brutality of race hatred cried out to be explained, understood, committed irrevocably to memory in lesson that would become a part of the life of each child she could reach in it” (13). The author is able to convey Jane’s conflicted thoughts, and does a good job of attaching the reader to her character within the first few pages. Jane ultimately decides to confront the taboo of race and discrimination in the white middle–class town of Riceville, and asks her class to describe African Americans. Immediately a pattern occurs and children answer, they “weren’t as smart as white people,” “they weren’t as clean,” “they weren’t as civilized,” and “they smelled bad” (15). Then, the author uniquely writes that “behind her expression of friendly interest, Jane was appalled” (15). By writing in this way, the author creates a strong relationship with the reader and Jane, even stronger than Jane’s beloved relationship with her students. This relationship between Jane and the reader is maintained throughout the book, which elevates the author’s writing by appealing to the reader’s emotions.
After introducing Jane Elliot’s character, and solidifying the bond that Jane has with the reader, Peters continues on to introduce the experiment. Peters successfully introduces details, pictures, and the results of the experiment in an exciting and surprising way that gives Jane Elliott the recognition she deserves. The reason this book is so enjoyable is because William Peters does not do too much, he tells the story just as it happened, and it elicits a genuine tone into the writing. The experiment that Jane Elliott came up with and did with her third grade class is she assigned her students to one of two groups, the blue eyed or the brown eyed group. Over a two day period students with brown eyes were labeled superior on the first day, while the blue eyed students were labeled inferior, on the second day the roles are reversed. The superior group received special privileges and roles, they got to go back for seconds at lunch time, and have extra time at the recess. As Peters explains, when a student with brown eyes would correctly answer a question, they were told that it was because “brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people. They are cleaner… more civilized… and they are smarter than blue-eyed people”(21). Peters took advantage of the emotional roller-coaster of the experiment, and included all of the heartbreaking details of the experiment. Peters included a quote by Jane Elliott that quoted her groundbreaking discoveries,“by lunch hour, there was no need to think before identifying a child as blue or brown-eyed. I could tell simply by looking at them. The brown-eyed children were happy…The blue-eyed children were miserable. Their posture, their expression, their entire attitudes were those of defeat… they looked and acted as though they were, in fact, inferior” (25). Interestingly, students independently adopted their new roles as inferior or superior, the inferior group even performed worse on work, while the superior group excelled. Peters flawlessly integrates stories of specific students in his writing, but equally as powerful were the pictures included in the book. Peters uses intense imagery to describe the situations, even without the photographs in the book, the writing leaves a clear picture of the effects that the discrimination had on the students in both groups.
This book highlights how discrimination can change a student’s look, performance, and confidence. The experiment that Elliott designed to teach the students what if felt like to be discriminated against, actually informed the rest of the world how discrimination can have a drastic affect on a person. Without William Peters writing, the rest of the world could not have known of the groundbreaking discoveries that Jane Elliott made in her third grade classroom. With the use of beautiful quotes and unbelievable details, the story is exciting to read, and informational. ~ Student: Sarina R
View all my reviews