Sociological Analysis of the Film ‘A Class Divided’ (1985)

 “A class divided” is a film which has a greater impact on the society we are living in. It was released on 26th march, 1985 and was produced and directed by William Peters. It is a documentary of a third grade teacher who tried to teach her students a lesson on prejudice and discrimination. Teacher, Jane Elliott, decided to teach her student a practical lesson on discrimination following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. Teacher Jane Elliott knew she had to do something although she was living in a homogenous town of Iowa. This documentary covers an exercise in discrimination based on eye color with two groups of children in the third grade classroom and adult employees of the Iowa state prison system at a daylong workshop on human relations. In 1970 when Jane Elliott conducted her experiment, PBS filmed a documentary, “Eye of The Storm” which was based on her experiment on blue eyed and brown eyed children in her classroom.

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This film is an expanded edition of William Peters’s classic study of the unique eye-color lesson in prejudice and discrimination taught by Jane Elliott. This new film continues the story of teacher Jane Elliott and her sixteen third graders of 1970, eleven of whom returned to their home town in 1984 for a reunion with their former teacher. Peters reports on that meeting and its evidence that the long-ago lesson has had a profound and enduring effect on the students’ lives and attitudes.

Sociological Analysis

Several sociological topics demonstrated in this film include racial, ethnicity and minority groups, local and global stratification and social inequality. The topic of racial, ethnicity and minority group was clearly demonstrated by the prejudice and discrimination experienced in this film. Local and global stratification and social inequality is portrayed by the social classes emerging in this film.

In this film all the people appear to beat risk to the spiteful effects of racial prejudice and discrimination. The children in the third grade classroom and the adult prison employees in the state prison reacted similarly when judged and treated unjustly on the basis of the eye color. Those who were treated as inferior in the film became uncomfortable, frustrated and disoriented and felt rejected and dehumanized. When asked to perform a simple task those in the inferior position had problems in doing the right things and following directions. Those who were treated as superior performed these tasks easily and then boasted to the others how smart they were, accusing them of inferiority because of their eye color.  Those who were treated as superior started creating new ideas of harassing and dehumanizing their alleged inferiors.

As portrayed in this film, racial prejudice can exist in the absence of minority group members. Teacher Jane Elliott portrayed this by first asking the third grade pupils what they knew about the blacks before she started conducting her experiment. These children expressed negative ideas which I do think were clearly received from the significant adults in their all-white, all Christian community. The only minority group members in their environment were only those seen on the television yet you could hear them express negative things concerning the minority. This clearly shows how racial prejudice can occur in the absence of the minority group. Prejudice mostly occurs as a result of discrimination, but not its cause. In this film, teacher Jane told her student that possession of a specific physical characteristic was an indication of inferiority. Students possessing certain characteristic soon began to act as though the negative traits she attributed to were real. Children in the superior position saw this as proof that her statements were fact and real. A trend was thus created, with the superiors discriminating and dehumanizing against the inferiors and the inferiors acting more and more negatively.

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The part of the film which was showing adult employees of the state prison clearly shows that they behaved the same way as the children of the third grade. From this part, we can learn that people tend to live according to what others expect from them. When these adults were placed in a powerless position and accused of a physical condition over which they had no control, they behaved the same way as the children. They became confused, helpless, passive, resigned and fatalistic and lost their natural orientation toward goals and success. This happened even though it was an exercise to last for a short while. The superior groups continued to harass and dehumanize their alleged inferior groups.

This film clearly portrayed that racial prejudice is a learned response. Both the third grade children and the adult employees were manipulated by teacher Jane into accepting and basing their behavior on the totally irrational idea that one should evaluate oneself and others by the authority given by the teacher. After seeing those designated as inferior began to behave in an inferior manner, it became increasingly easy to believe that the eye color was the cause, since that was the only difference between the two groups. Within a short period of time one could clearly see that these groups had believed the myth of their teacher and they were behaving according to this myth.

A class divided is portraying how the social inequality is practiced in our societies. This is clearly shown by the way social classes are created through this film. In the first part of the movie, the group which was treated as superior acted as a certain social class with abilities to perform some activities which were difficult for the inferior group. The superior group was also given some priority by the authority figure in the film, that is, teacher Jane Elliott. For instance, the superior group of the third grade children was getting extra recess; they could drink right from the fountain, having a few seconds at lunch they could start playing with the playground equipment. The inferior group of the third grade children had to use a paper cup to drink from the fountain, they were not allowed to play with the superior group, they had to stay off the playground equipment and wear collars around their neck so that they were easily identified (Peters, 1987). This separation of these groups is clear indication that they were treated as two different social classes with different rankings. In the second part of the documentary, the inferior group of the adult employees was made to wear green collars; they could not use the same bathrooms like everybody and they were treated badly. This made this group feel as if they were treated as a different social class compared to the other employees. This group of employees was antagonistic to the authority figure, a few rebelled. They felt powerless, hopeless, angry and wanting to speak up but being afraid to do so.

Inferior characteristics do occur in people and the so called minority groups act due to the way others judge them based on a certain physical characteristic or condition. When we treat others in a negative and unjust ways because of their physical characteristics, they will tend to behave the way we are treating them. If we treat them as inferior they will always feel inferior and they will act as if they do not have capabilities of doing things like their fellow human beings. Education and your intelligence does not matter in the way you behave, if others treat you like an inferior being you will act like one and if they treat you in a superior way you will act this way. This is clearly portrayed in the movie whereby the sophisticated, educated and intelligent white adults, both male and females behaved much-like nine year old third grade children in this documentary. Learning even the simplest thing is very difficult when you are treated in such a way that you are humiliated. Regardless of your age, sex color or race you will not perform well under this state. In this documentary both the children and the adults had difficulties in learning while being treated as inferiors even though they knew it was a part of the experiment that would soon be over. Members of both groups were able to indicate that under such kind of treatment for even a short time was debilitating, depressing, dehumanizing and frustrating.

The filmmaker wanted to spread the news concerning the negative effects of racial discrimination and prejudice. He also wanted to inform us on the negatives which are associated by the social classes we create in our societies. Anyone watching this documentary would directly understand the message the filmmaker wanted to spread through the acts happening in the film. For instance, one will be able to see the suffering and pain the inferior groups are undergoing in the film and thus understand the negative effects of discrimination. The filmmaker also wanted us to understand that prejudice and racial discrimination is not a natural thing but a thing we create in our mind. This is well portrayed by the use of children who were white. Although the children were from the same race they practiced discrimination when they were separated by their eye color.


This film is among the best I have watched. The filmmaker did an excellent work because anyone all the world would be able to understand the theme of the movie. The effects of the acts occurring in the film were clearly visible. Furthermore the film is based on real actions which occurred in the late 1970s, it was not just acting but the people involved in the film were showing their real actions thus message was clear. The topics such as racial discrimination and prejudice were clearly visible in this documentary. From this film we were able to understand that, only we as individual are able to eliminate the racism but not the society or the government.

There were many lessons in this documentary which are supposed to be emphasized so that people can stop practicing these sociological vices. A major lesson in this film is that people are not alike nor should they have to be alike to be treated as equal in the society. Color, sex and age are real differences among members of the human race and should be recognized and appreciated. Although racial discrimination is decreasing nowadays, it is usually a potential cause for war, attract terrorism and even a silly excuse of neglecting others in the societies. In my opinion, it is important for us to find a sound solution for this vice we create. Social classes also possess the major problem in the way we relate to each other. There is always distinction between social classes in terms of power and priorities. The social classes that are considered as powerful are given many priorities compared to those deemed as powerless. This will automatically create bad relationship between the two social classes. A consensus should be reached so that all the social classes created in our society can leave in peace and harmony.

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