Teaching Tolerance

When the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Jane Elliott was horrified - not only for the murder, but because the people in the small Iowa town where she taught third grade, seemed unconcerned. "I didn't see any sorrow," she remembers. "I didn't see any anger. I didn't see any regret."

So Elliott changed the lesson plan for her third graders in all white Riceville, Iowa. CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

"I decided they needed to know how it felt to be in the shoes of a child of color for a day," says Elliott. "I said, 'OK, today we re going to separate people according to the color of their eyes...My goal was to make these kids aware of what racism really is.'"

The strategy was very effective. Brown eyes usually started off as the preferred group. "The brown eyes fall into place because it feels good" to be in power. The kids in the other group, Elliott says, are "Withdrawn, depressed, angry. I watched children go from trusting to untrusting."

With hate crimes still in the headlines CBS News decided to track down the Iowa teacher for a report card on race relations in America. "Racism is alive and well in this county," says Elliott.

Although she is 65, she still works. She is spending her golden years reminding audiences across America about the golden rule. "Nobody is born a racist," says Elliott.

"If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand," Elliott tells an auditorium full of people. No one stands. Why has she kept it up for all these years? "Because they're still at it. We re still acting in racist ways in this country."

As she divides blue eyes from brown eyes these days, she is part teacher, part preacher, and part drill sergeant. Adults who can endure her racism boot camp seem as profoundly changed as Donna Reddell, who is still grateful to her third grade teacher for the lessons she learned three decades ago. "It was just a one day thing for me but it has stayed with me all these years. But a black child has to live with this the rest of their life," says Reddell.

What does Elliott say to those who say that she doesn't seem like someone who would be passionate about racism and discrimination? "What do you think the person who really cares about that looks like? I get hired because I m short so I'm non-threatening. I'm female so I don't have any real power. And I m white, so I have credibility. And I resent it," she replies.

As long as there is discrimination, Jane Elliott plans to keep on teaching.


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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