“Sensitivity” isn’t the word for exercises that humiliate children, writes columnist Linda Seebach. She blasts “Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes,” which tries to fight discrimination by enacting it. Employees — or students — are divided into groups based on eye color, with the blue-eyed designated as inferior and subject to discrimination. (The leader can decide whether those with green and hazel eyes are in the superior or inferior group.)
Seebach heard from a woman whose son’s ninth grade English class, which was studying Othello, was subjected to the exercise.
“The teacher made my son wear a blue card on a string around his neck. He was required to smile ingratiatingly, bow his head, and beg people to tie his shoes for him,” she wrote. “The teacher wore a yellow card, that of the superior race, and she petted and made much of the other yellow-card students.”
In a particularly nasty wrinkle, the teacher told the students chosen for the subordinate group that they would all receive Fs for their work that day and that the failing grades would be on their final transcript. And she sent them home still believing that lie.
. . . “Teaching children about abuse should never include abusing them,” the mother wrote. “Committing a hate crime should not be the way we teach our youngsters about hate crimes.”
I think it’s very easy for children and adults to understand and condemn blatant discrimination. It’s a no brainer. But it’s much harder to understand how prejudices influence human interactions in the real world. Why does Iago hate Othello so much? Why is Othello so vulnerable to jealousy? If Shakespeare hadn’t made Othello a Moor, how would that change the play?