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Jane Elliot Meets Foucault: the formation of ethical identities in the classroom

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This article looks at the popular, yet controversial, pedagogical exercise originated by Jane Elliot in the early 1970s. The "Blue-Eyed, Brown-Eyed" activity is analysed as a possible tool of moral education utilising Michel Foucault's theories of ethical self-formation and care of the self. By first explicating Foucault's ethics, the author reveals how the exercise, as practised in the post-secondary classroom, can be considered part of the "technologies of the self" advocated by Foucault that are integral to the process of creating an ethical self.

Moving beyond "knowledge of" oppression, in this instance "racial" inequality and degradation, to a more profound understanding of justice depends on our ability to sympathise with others. The author, in adopting Foucaut's model of moral development as ethical/liberatory/aesthetic practice, is claiming that self-construction, the constant critique and shaping of our persons as ethical beings, must be considered a central aim of moral pedagogy. Such an education involves more than the simple adoption of categorical truths. Creating an ethical self requires ongoing judgements about how one responds to the condition of others and who one would be in the world. It is these judgements that students need to recognise, examine, practise and critically reflect on, in order to grow as educated and compassionate people.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Ball State University, Indiana, USA

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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