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Monday, November 5, 2012

CEP 818: How Do I Love Thee: Embodied Thinking

Since my topic of social injustice or inequality involves emotion-and embodied thinking incorporates our emotional impulses as much as body movement itself- I became fixated on the emotional side of embodied thinking. I thought about my past educational experiences (most of my undergraduate studies were in psychology and sociology) and came upon one particular experiment that I felt illustrated the embodied thinking of social inequality the best: Jane Elliot's Blue-Eyed/Brown-Eyed experiment.

While an Institutional Review Board (IRB) may not be very fond of one conducting this experiment the way Dr. Elliot did, I think it is possible to incorporate this experiment (briefly) into a lesson plan even by just showing the PBS special created about it rather than conduct the actual experiment itself. PBS's website even has a Teacher's Guide which states: "A Class Divided is an encore presentation of the classic documentary on third-grade teacher Jane Elliott's "blue eyes/brown eyes" exercise, originally conducted in the days following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. This guide is designed to help you use the film to engage students in reflection and dialogue about the historical role of racism in the United States, as well as the role of prejudice and stereotyping in students' lives today. Because the film deals with racism and prejudice, it may raise deep emotions for both you and your students. Some students may be confronted with privilege for the first time while others may see an affirmation of a lifetime of discrimination. As you see in the film, frustration, anger, and pain are not uncommon responses to being confronted with bias and inequity. To prepare yourself, plan to spend some time viewing and reflecting on the film by yourself or with trusted colleagues, family, or friends before bringing it in the classroom. That way you won't be processing your own raw emotions while also trying to help students deal with their own potentially intense reactions."

John Stossel even discussed this experiment along with other stereotypes at one time here:

The most interesting part of John Stossels coverage (to me) is when Dr. Elliot reenacts this experiment years later with students who KNOW its an experiment and yet it still invokes strong emotions in them-tears, anger, frustration, etc. This is something these students will never forget as an experience-and their entire bodies reacted to it. The research subjects empathized with the subject matter and felt the emotions for themselves. It was a compelling experience and it taught them very valuable lessons about stereotyping, social inequality and social injustice in an atypical format.

Another example of embodied thinking as it relates to social justice would be protesting. "Standing together" to protest something you feel is an injustice is allowing your body to speak for your mind on a topic. History has shown us time after time instances where people physically protest (picket lines, chaining themselves to trees, forming human chains, etc.) to send their message to others (government, unions, societies, corporations, etc.).  "Standing up" for something you believe in is a physical expression of belief as much as it is a figurative explanation of actions.  I teach my own children that if you see people bullying others or if they are bullying you, that you should stand up to them and calmly express to them that what they are doing is wrong. "Standing up" against social injustices or social inequalities is a large part of social activism. 

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