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The Third Wave was an experiment to demonstrate the appeal of fascism undertaken by history teacher Ron Jones with sophomore high school students attending his Contemporary History class as part of a study of Nazi Germany. The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Altomarker, Californiamarker, during the first week of April 1967. Jones, unable to explain to his students how the German populace could claim ignorance of the extermination of the Jewish people, decided to show them instead. Jones started a movement called "The Third Wave" and convinced his students that the movement is to eliminate democracy. The fact 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. Of contemporary sources, the experiment is only mentioned in Cubberley High School student newspaper The Cubberley Catamount. It is only briefly mentioned in two issues, and one more issue of the paper has articles about this experiment, but without much detail. The most detailed account of the experiment is an essay written by Jones himself some six years afterwards. Several other articles about the experiment exist, but all of them were written after a considerable amount of time had passed.

The 1981 TV special The Wave, the 1988 book The Wave, various stage adaptations, and the 2008 German film Die Welle were based on the experiment.

Chronology

Jones writes that he started the first day of the experiment (Monday, April 3 1967 ) with simple things like proper seating, drilling the students until they were able to move from outside the classroom to their seats and take the proper seating position in less than 30 seconds without making a sound. He then proceeded to strict classroom discipline emerging as an authoritative figure and improving efficiency of the class dramatically.

Jones closed the first day's session with a few rules, only meaning 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 less, 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 named the movement "The Third Wave", after the common belief that the third in a series of ocean waves is last and largest. Jones made up a salute resembling the one of 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, etc). 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 astounding. He announced to the participants that this movement is only a part of a nationwide movement and that on the next day a presidential candidate of the movement would publicly announce existence of the movement. Jones ordered students to attend a noon rally on Friday to witness the announcement.

Instead of a televised address of their leader, the students were presented with an empty channel. After few minutes of waiting, Jones announced that they have 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. That was the end of the experiment.

Reaction

Despite the clear implications of this study on the malleability of young minds, which is of particular interest to psychologists seeking to understand and prevent abuse of it, little has surfaced on the subject; Todd Strasser, under the pen name Morton Rhue, wrote a young-adult novel on the subject entitled The Wave, after it had been made into a TV movie (1981); later, Jones himself came forward with his own material. Researchers of the experiment have had some trouble in eliciting reports from any of the students involved. Hence, nearly all detailed information about The Third Wave comes from Ron Jones himself. Another film based on the subject was later released theatrically (2008). In this version, the experiment was transferred to modern-day Germanymarker.

In 2006, a middle school history class in Florida attempted to recreate the experiment with even younger children.

A full account was given by Ron Jones in the 1980 edition of “The Next Whole Earth Catalog” on pp. 374-377.

See also



Notes

 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.


References

  1. The Catamount, Vol 11., No 14., page 3
  2. Article with participants recollection
  3. Ron Jones's essay about The Third Wave (Internet Archive)
  4. The Catamount, Vol 11., No 13., page 2
  5. The Catamount, Vol 12., No 6., page 6
  6. School's 'Holocaust' Experiment Upsets Parents from a local news channel, accessed March 30, 2006


Further reading

  • 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".


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