Students Learn Prejudice Lesson
School separates children to teach about unfairness
Mike Billington, News Journal, delawareonline, May 21
Marcus Fisher-Cassidy fired a sour look at science teacher Leigh Longenecker.
“This,” he said, as he poured soda into a cup for a student with a dime-size red dot on her cheek, “is bad. It’s not fair.”
“That’s life,” Longenecker said. “It’s all in your genes.”
Jaslyn Johnson, 12, looked up at the sound of Longenecker’s voice, her hand touching the blue dot on her face.
“She’s treating us with torture,” Jaslyn said, as she also poured soda for classmates with red dots on their faces.
Marcus, 13, wrinkled his brow and frowned as he moved to serve the next student with a red dot on her face. “Well,” he said, “it’s not right.”
“Discrimination never is,” Longenecker said.
Thursday was Blue Dot-Red Dot Day at Skyline Middle School in Pike Creek. An annual tradition, it gives seventh-graders a firsthand look at prejudice and discrimination.
“It’s a tough day,” said Kyle Nance, 14. “You get treated like animals. You get out of class last, and you have to clean up after the Red Dots. In gym class, we had to do 25 extra push-ups because we’re Blue Dots.”
English teacher Linda Filer, who came up with the idea eight years ago to help students learn about diversity, said a surprising thing happens during the day. Red Dot students start out feeling superior, but most end up feeling sorry for the Blue Dots.
“It’s fun for me because I get all the good stuff,” said Yasmine Drayton, 12, as she ate an ice cream cone in Filer’s English class and watched a movie. To her left, Blue Dot students bent over their books, working.
“But I have a soft spot for my friends who are Blue Dots today. It’s not much fun for them, I don’t think,” Yasmine said.
“I’m glad I’m a Red Dot today, but I feel bad for the Blue Dots. Prejudice is bad for everybody,” said Allison Gantt as she also watched the movie.
“They see pretty quickly what it’s like to be discriminated against and how wrong it is,” Filer said.
Acting Principal Janet Basara added: “It’s a powerful lesson.”
It’s a lesson made all the more powerful by the fact students don’t know in advance whether they’ll be Red Dots or Blue Dots. When they walk into school in the morning they reach into a bag and come out with a dot. If it’s red, they get a host of privileges. If it’s blue, they spend the day as lower-class citizens.
“The beauty of it is that it’s completely random,” Filer said, “just like birth.”
In Bryan Wood’s social studies class, Blue Dots sat facing the opposite direction and worked while Red Dots ate popcorn, drank soda and watched a movie.
“I’m kind of happy, but kind of sad,” Jayeisha Johnson said.
“I’m happy I’m a Red Dot but,” she said as she cast a quick glance at her Blue Dot classmates, “I’m sad for them. It doesn’t seem right that we should be having fun while they work.”
Her friend Genevieve Linder, 12, was relieved that she pulled a red dot out of the bag.
“I’m excited about being a Red Dot because we get everything,” she said, smiling. “I think the Blue Dots aren’t having a good time right now.”
Classmate Solana Barone, 12, agreed with a faint smile.
“I feel like I have privileges, and that maybe that’s not right,” she said. “But I’m really glad I’m a Red Dot.”
Outside Wood’s classroom, a dozen Blue Dots were on their hands and knees using toothbrushes to clean the corridor.
“It’s not fun,” Kyle Nance said grimacing. “This is not fun at all.”
Filer’s voice rang down the corridor.
“You! Blue Dot!” she called. “Are you talking to someone instead of cleaning? No one gave you permission to talk!”
Kyle muttered something unintelligible beneath his breath and went on cleaning.
In Longenecker’s class Marcus Fisher-Cassidy finished serving Red Dots and slumped into a chair. “It’s not right,” he said softly.
At the end of the school day, the dots came off. Students turned in the journals they had used to document their experiences as Red Dots and Blue Dots. Life went back to normal.
“It’s a day they won’t forget,” Filer said. “I have former students in high school and college stop by and ask if we’re still doing Blue Dot-Red Dot Day.”
She watched her students get ready to leave, her eyes missing nothing as they danced around the classroom to the sound of shuffling papers and creaking chairs.
“It’s a lesson they won’t forget either,” she said.
Reach Mike Billington at 324-2761 or email@example.com.