Martin Luther King Jr. Lesson Sparks Concerns About Discrimination

Elvia Aguilar, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, January 21, 2010

An activity meant to honor Martin Luther King Jr. at Sinton’s Smith Middle School that separated students based on eye color generated concerns of discrimination for some, and parents will receive a letter this week explaining the exercise, the district superintendent said.

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Students in coach Robert Mounts’ physical education class with brown eyes were asked to perform a normal warm-up that is used in physical education two or three times each week. Students with green or blue eyes watched, VanMatre [Steve VanMatre, Sinton Independent School District superintendent] said. They were separated by eye color, not race, he said.

The exercise is similar to an experiment first performed in 1968 by a third-grade teacher in Iowa.

Mounts has written a letter to parents explaining the exercise, which will be delivered this week.

He wrote: “At the conclusion of the warm-up activities I explained the purpose of the separation of the students and gave small narrative about Martin Luther King and his importance in the civil rights movement and the importance of the civil rights movements in the lives of today’s youth.”

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VanMatre has received five or six phone calls from parents concerned that Mounts’ actions were discriminating to Hispanics, blacks or those with dark colored eyes. He explained to parents that the activity’s intent wasn’t to discriminate but educate students on the experience of being a minority.

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n 1968, Jane Elliot developed the blue eyes/brown eyes exercise to teach discrimination to her third-grade class in an all-white school after King’s assassination. The exercise at first allowed the blue-eyed children to be superior, while brown-eyed children were inferior. The next day, the brown-eyed children were superior to the blue-eyed children.

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