There are a lot of opinions on the most effective methodologies for teaching. I am always striving to find creative ways to engage, inform, and ultimately educate my students on various historical and topical issues, and over the years I have found experience to be the most impactful and longest lasting technique. As human beings, it’s rare that we truly understand something until we’ve experience it for ourselves. I may not always be able to get my students to “experience” historical events, but I can use experiences based on more topical events, such as sexism and gender inequality, to help them understand the historical context and future importance.
Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” experiment has a huge impact on me. She set out to teach a class of third graders about fairness, and with one exercise she ended up teaching her students – and Americans in general – a powerful lesson about our views of race and racism. It blew my mind, and inspired me to utilize those eye-opening methods in my own classroom. It made me realize that education is about so much more than delivering information, it’s about inspiring and opening minds.
I’ve been teaching for a decade, and I’ve tried many activities that failed miserably, but every so often I try something that surpasses my expectations, and that’s what this experiment was. I wanted to teach my male students about gender inequality, specifically as it relates to the gender representation of the US Congress, I decided to flip the script and put the guys in put that exact position.
Watch the video courtesy of SoulPancake:
The US Congress is made up of 80% male representatives and 20% female. For this experiment I created a “Class Congress,” made up of 6 of the toughest football players at the school and 18 young ladies from feminist club – 80% female and 20% male. The guys thought the group was there to vote on new school policies, but when they got there they learned the policies we were voting on would disproportionately affect the male students vs the female students. The idea was to illustrate how guys would feel knowing that girls would ultimately be responsible for policies that directly affected them. Obviously, it wasn’t something that sat very well, and because of that, they were able to grasp the irony of the fact that that is exactly what happens in the US Congress on a daily basis.
It took one lesson for these guys to see, and feel, this issue. So, when SoulPancake, Rainn Wilson’s production company, decided to help me document and share this, I couldn’t have been happier. SoulPancake is all about making content that matters, and they were as passionate about this project as I was, because it’s a conversation we should be having.
My hopes for this experiment were to give guys a taste of how women must feel in Congress, and to encourage other teachers to utilize social experiments with their students. And, on a larger scale, I also wanted to highlight the importance of equal representation. This was just an experiment, but I believe the reaction of the young men in my class speaks volumes about the need for a more diverse government body.
Nicholas Ferroni is a high school teacher who mentors students and teaches History in the same high school that he attended.Nick was named one of the “100 Making a Difference” for his commitment to education reform and has developed the “Teach the Truth” campaign to incorporate more minority figures in social studies curriculum as well as including the history of the Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights movement. He was recently named the “Upstander of the Year” by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) for his outspoken advocacy and support for LGBTQ youth. Nick has received national attention by numerous educators and publications for his unique and innovative methodology in successfully reaching contemporary and urban students.