Wave, The

This is a recording of a talk given by Ron Jones about his infamous experiment ‘The Wave’. 1967, Cubberly High School, Palo Alto California. World History Teacher Ron Jones is asked about the Holocaust by a student, and "Could it happen here?" Jones came up with an unusual answer. He decided to have a two-week experiment in dictatorship. His idea was to explain fascism to his class through a game, nothing more. He never intended what resulted, where his class would be turned into a Fascist environment. Where students gave up their freedom for the prospect of being superior to their neighbours.

Monday morning he straightened the classroom, dimmed the lights and played Wagnerian music. The word "discipline" was written on the blackboard. He then had the students sit up straight in their chairs with hands placed flat across the small of their backs. In this setting, he devoted the remainder of the class to the topic of discipline.

By the second day, Jones developed a special greeting, a wave. It became known as the Third Wave, and if students saw each other outside class, they were to use it. In his lectures, Jones went from "discipline," to "strength through community," and then to "strength through action." By midweek, his "experiment" expanded to sixty students, and by the week’s end, more than two hundred were participating. Other teachers and th  school’s principal stood by and watched. 

The first sign of concern came when some students had taken it upon themselves to report others who did not conform. After just four days, things got out of hand. Jones feared for the safety of a few students who refused to participate. To his dismay and alarm, the experiment was so blindly embraced by the students, that he cut the project short. "Initially I just wanted to show my students how powerful the pressure to belong can be, but the exercise got out of control. A momentum began to build that I couldn’t slow, or even deter. I became frightened by the day-to-day happenings in class, and was forced to call it off," recalls Jones

Overnight, Jones became the subject of national controversy, sparking discussion on the appropriateness of exposing young adults to life’s realities. To some, he was an innovative hero and teacher; to others he was a Communist. Many people were shocked and embarrassed that the same mentality which led to the Holocaust could develop so quickly, in 1967, in a pristine all-American setting, and an academic town no less, home to the well-known Stanford University.

Jones wrote of his "experiment" in a short story, titled "Take As Directed". which was published in an alternative publication, The Whole Earth Review. Norman Lear, an American film maker, made a television adaptation which won Peabody and Emmy awards; however, in the process, he dramatically changed Jones’ original true story. Later, a novel was published based on the teleplay, becoming a best seller in Europe. To date, over 1.5 million copies have been sold, and the story is required reading in German schools. The irony of the teleplay, the novel, and some of the plays produced since the original publication of Jones’ story, is that they fail to tell what really happened in the classroom. 

Jones’ authentic story was essentially unknown until 1993 when he was invited by the German government to address anti-fascist rallies. While on tour, he was escorted to the spiritual nerve of the Third Reich, Nurember,. site of the famous rallies, and Hitler’s private chambers, the Gold Room. In this place full of ghosts, Ron Jones told his story.

Witnesses learned of the "experiment" not from the various dramatisations, but for the first time had the simple truth. It was a decisive moment for Jones seeing the effect of the story on his audience and remembering an earlier encounter with Eva Mozesa, survivor of Dr. Joseph Mengele’s horrific "twin" experiments in Auschwitz. Jones knew then he must share the truth with the world.

Jones’s telling of his story in this video is a vivid and riveting experience. Recounting his experiment in dictatorship, his meeting with Eva Mozes, and his presentation at Nuremberg. He warns of the destructive nature rooted in the pressure to belong or conform. Taped in San Francisco before a sold out Cowell Theatre whose audience included participants of the experiment and holocaust survivors, the one hour narrative reveals the events that led to the "experiment," and what happened to the class during and after The Wave. The "experiment" illustrates how individual freedoms can be quickly abandoned and willfully repressed for collective goals and racism as happened in the rise of Nazi Germany and the treatment of the Jews during World War II.
Great Britain
conformity; Nazi Germany; obedience; group dynamics


Ron Jones 

Distribution Formats

60 minutes



Ron Jones / Dirksen - Molloy Productions

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