While their Grade 10 and 11 counterparts were busy taking the PSATs, Grade 9 students spent Wednesday morning learning the lessons of character education. What does character education mean at Parker’s Upper School? It means defining one’s self and identity, ethical decision-making, and teamwork.

The first lesson revolved around copyright infringement and fair use rules. Who owns creative work? How do you properly cite those works? What’s the difference between inspiration and appropriation? How do students use the work they’re inspired by and still remain academically honest? All of these questions were answered in an informative presentation before students broke off into small groups to do exercises in copyright and fair use procedures.

The second lesson came in the form of a well-known PBS documentary from the 1980s: A Class Divided. The documentary starts in a small, all-white town in Iowa where, in 1968, teacher Jane Elliot divided her grade 3 class into two groups—those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes. The blue-eyed students were told they were smarter, cleaner, and more civilized than their brown-eyed classmates. Soon, the blue-eyed students began to treat the brown-eyed students differently; they were eager to dole out punishments, picked on them at recess, and refused to play with the people they called friends just a day before.

Jane Elliot’s exercise taught her students a powerful lesson in discrimination, showing them that a person’s physical traits—like their eye color or skin color—doesn’t diminish a person’s worth or ability. The lesson has been taught and used in classrooms and workplaces countless times since it was first made famous in 1968 and distributed to a broad audience when it aired as a documentary in 1985.

Parker’s Grade 9 students watched the hour-long documentary then debriefed in groups of five, answering questions about what they learned, what they were surprised by, and what they would continue to remember and take away from the profound lesson in bigotry.

To close the day, students broke into small groups again to complete the challenge of building a balloon tower. With just a bag of deflated balloons and a yard of scotch tape, the freshmen worked together to create a viable tower that could stand up and compete with other towers in the room.  

Wednesday’s Grade 9 program expanded on the lessons of character education the Upper School is working hard to instill in its students. Character education—one of Parker’s core values—looks different in each division of the School. In the Upper School, these lessons focus on the skills of defining self-identity, ethical decision-making, and teamwork.