Skillful Teaching or Gratuitously Shaming Students? (VIDEO)
Marpa and Milarepa. Image via Colorado Ratnashri Sangha.
Educator Jane Elliot’s teachings on diversity involve no kumbaya holding of hands. They remind me more of Marpa’s exhausting and frustrating assignments for his student Milarepa. Elliot’s tough lessons spark a tearful meltdown in one student, and that’s not even two-and-a-half minutes in.
I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on Elliot’s methods. Are they an instructive example of compassionate confrontation? Or do they steamroll over nuances in multi-pronged oppression?
I know this is on the long-ish side, but I promise that there’s a really valuable message here that makes it worth watching all the way through.
Jane Elliot is a teacher and diversity trainer who developed the “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise to teach students what it feels like to be a person of color. This video begins pretty abruptly, where one of the students who’s been singled out based on eye color is extremely frustrated.
At 2:46, Elliot explains why she keeps going even after she’s made the point. At 3:35, she delivers an important message. And at 10:05, you may laugh a little, but I think you’ll really get it.
Many years ago, I could have been the girl who walked out, not understanding how this feels to the people it affects. I’m glad that’s no longer the case.
In light of Elliot’s philosophy, we can see how the history of Marpa and Milarepa might have some resonance with anti-racist education.
We then go on to learn from Milarepa’s life that, in order to remove not only the negative karma of this lifetime but all that we have accumulated throughout many lifetimes, we need to have determination, perseverance, and diligence in removing faults.
Personally, I appreciate Elliot’s methods. My main concern or disagreement (without knowing her full curriculum) is that she appears to reduce racism to an aggregation of individual “racists.” These racists perpetuate microagressions of interpersonal racism through face-to-face interactions, and certain powerful ones may decide what goes on television and popular media. While those are certainly important (case in point: would Elliot be allowed to teach with an intensity verging on Judge-Judy-level harshness if she weren’t a white woman?), what about the structural, systemic reasons for racism, and its connection to exploitation and economic inequality on a mass scale?
In any case, embracing compassionate confrontation is one of BPF’s 10 principles of radical rebirth, and I love considering what it can look look like! Have you ever received or offered social justice teachings with a ferocious approach?
By the way: a small segment of the video is transcribed in Upworthy, but if anyone would like to work on a full transcript for accessibility, that would be wonderful!