The Third Wave
The Third Wave was a social experiment to demonstrate that even democratic societies are not immune to the appeal of fascism. It was undertaken by history teacher Ron Jones with sophomore high school students attending his "Contemporary World" history class as part of a study of Nazi Germany.
Background to the Third Wave experiment
The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during the first week of April 1967. Jones, finding himself unable to explain to his students how the German population could have claimed ignorance of the extermination of the Jewish people, decided to demonstrate it to them instead. Jones started a movement called "The Third Wave" and told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy. The idea that democracy emphasizes individuality was considered as a drawback of democracy, and Jones emphasized this main point of the movement in its motto: "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride."
The experiment was not well documented at the time. Of contemporary sources, the experiment is only mentioned in the Cubberley High School student newspaper, The Cubberley Catamount. It is only briefly mentioned in two issues, and one more issue of the paper has a longer article about this experiment at its conclusion. Jones himself wrote a detailed account of the experiment some nine years afterwards and more articles about the experiment followed, including some interviews with Jones and the original students.
Jones writes that he started the first day of the experiment with simple things like proper seating, drilling the students extensively. He then proceeded to enforce strict classroom discipline by emerging as an authoritarian figure and dramatically improving the efficiency of the class.
The first day's session was closed with only a few rules, intending to be a one day experiment. Students had to be sitting at attention before the second bell, had to stand up to ask or answer questions and had to do it in three words or fewer, and were required to preface each remark with "Mr. Jones."
On the second day he managed to meld his history class into a group with a supreme sense of discipline and community. Jones based the name of his movement, "The Third Wave," on the supposed fact that the third in a series of waves is the strongest, an erroneous version of an actual sailing tradition that every ninth wave is the largest. Jones made up a salute resembling that of the Nazi regime and ordered class members to salute each other even outside the class. They all complied with this command.
The experiment took on a life of its own, with students from all over the school joining in: on the third day the class expanded from initial 30 students to 43 attendees. All of the students showed drastic improvement in their academic skills and tremendous motivation. All of the students were issued a member card and each of them received a special assignment, like designing a Third Wave Banner, stopping non-members from entering the class, or the like. Jones instructed the students on how to initiate new members, and by the end of the day the movement had over 200 participants. Jones was surprised that some of the students started reporting to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules.
On Thursday, the fourth day of the experiment, Jones decided to terminate the movement because it was slipping out of his control. The students became increasingly involved in the project and their discipline and loyalty to the project was outstanding. He announced to the participants that this movement was a part of a nationwide movement and that on the next day a presidential candidate of the movement would publicly announce the existence of the movement. Jones ordered students to attend a noon rally on Friday to witness the announcement.
Fifth and last day
Instead of a televised address of their leader, the students were presented with an empty channel. After a few minutes of waiting, Jones announced that they had been a part of an experiment in fascism and that they all willingly created a sense of superiority that German citizens had in the period of Nazi Germany. He then played them a film about the Nazi regime to conclude the experiment.
The psychology involved has been extensively studied in terms of youth gang behavior and peer pressure, of which this experiment was a variant. There have been many analogies to youth terrorist organizations in Africa and the Middle East, organized by similar methods, in addition to the original Hitler Youth movement (on which the experiment was modeled).
In popular culture
The 2008 German film Die Welle transferred the experiment to a modern-day German classroom to critical acclaim.
In 2010, Jones staged a musical called The Wave, written with some of the students in the class.
On the 10th of October 2010, a film documentary, Lesson Plan, retelling the story of the Third Wave through interviews with the original students and teacher debuted at the Mill Valley Film Festival. It was produced by Philip Neel, one of Jones's own former students.
- Milgram experiment
- Stanford prison experiment
- Human experimentation in the United States
- Peer pressure
- Jane Elliott brown-eye/blue-eye demonstration
^ In, which was published on Friday April 7, reports of "strange happenings in Mr. Jones' [...] classes" are mentioned without further detail, which confirms that the movement was active, but not yet finished in the week starting on April 3, 1967. In, published on April 21 the experiment is dated "two weeks ago", which also puts the experiment in the first week of April - in fact it calls out "...Wednesday, April 5, the last day of the movement."
- The Catamount, Vol 11., No 14., page 3
- Article with participants recollection
- Ron Jones's 2-part essay about The Third Wave (Internet Archive)
- The Catamount, Vol 11., No 13., page 2
- The Catamount, Vol 12., No 6., page 6
- This tradition is found e.g. in Tennyson's The Coming of Arthur.
- In 'The Wave', ex-teacher Ron Jones looks back (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Ducey, Patricia. "Experiment in Fascism at an American High School: The Lesson Plan @ The Newport Beach Film Festival". Libertas Film Magazine. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- Wings Cultural Society
- Dawson, Jeff (31 August 2008), "The Wave shows how to turn children into Nazis", Sunday Times.
- Klink, Bill (April 21, 1967) "The Third Wave presents inside look at Fascism",The Cubberley Catamount, Volume 11, No. 14, Page 3. (News article in Cubberley student newspaper, following the Third Wave Rally, including details regarding the rally and names of some individuals involved.)
- Leler, Robin and Sakuma, Bernice. (April 7, 1967) The Cubberley Catamount, Volume 11, No. 13, Page 2. Column entitled "Through the Tiger Eye". (Article in Cubberley student newspaper makes brief reference to the events of the "Third Wave".)
- Strasser, T. (1981). The Wave. New York: Dell Publishing Co.
- Williams, Sylvia Berry. (1970) Hassling. New York: Little, Brown. Page 51 in Chapter 7 "A Bill of Particulars on the USM".
- The original essay by Jones, 1972
- Lesson Plan Third Wave documentary film, as told by the original Third Wave students and teacher
- The Wave Home Official Wave website - story history, FAQ and links by original Third Wave students
- www.thewave.tk includes information about novel, stage and screen adaptations of the story
- The Western Neighborhoods Project's short biography of Ron Jones
- Mob Mentality Act 2 (RealAudio)
- SPIEGEL Article on the 2008 film, Nazis für fünf Tage ("Nazis for five days") www.spiegel.de (German)
- The Wave, the Musical, Canadian musical, circa 2000
- The Wave (1981), Short movie based on Jones' 1976 short story
- Die Welle (2008), Movie about the wave
- Whiting, Sam (January 30, 2010). "In 'The Wave,' ex-teacher Ron Jones looks back". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Corp. Retrieved January 30, 2010.