The Third Wave

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The Third Wave

What came to be known as the "Third Wave" began at Cubberly High School in Palo Alto as a game without any direct reference to Nazi Germany, says Ron Jones, who had just begun his first teaching job in the 1966-67 academic year. When a social studies student asked about the German public's responsibility for the rise of the Third Reich, Jones decided to try and simulate what happened in Germany by having his students "basically follow instructions" for a day.

Before students arrived for class on Monday, Jones vigorously cleaned his classroom and arranged the desks in unusually straight rows. He dimmed the lights and played Wagnerian music as students drifted in for class. Then Jones, a popular instructor who normally avoided even such regimentation as taking roll, told his students that he could give them the keys to power and success - "Strength Through Discipline."

Jones considered calling a halt, but then went to the blackboard and wrote "Strength Through Community" below the previous day's slogan, "Strength Through Discipline."

"I began to lecture on community - something bigger than oneself, something enjoyable. They really bought that argument," Jones recalls.

A powerful sense of belonging had sprung up among lowly sophomores at the bottom of the rung of the three-year school, and Jones admits he soon became a part of the exercise as well as its leader.

Elwood P. Cubberley Senior High School (view photos), Palo Alto, California, USA. The Ron Jones classroom was room C-3, and the final rally was in room H-1. The high school was closed in 1979, and the facility is now the Cubberley Community Center. There were also 3 Third Wave classes going simultaneously

between 5 and 8 school days

The school newspaper at the time said it ended on Wednesday, April 5, 1967 (Catamount, April 21, 1967, page 3), so it likely ran sometime between Monday, March 27, 1967 and Wednesday, April 5, 1967.

Ron Jones' class was called "Contemporary World", and was a history class as part of the Social Studies Department. Subjects in Jones' class prior to The Third Wave included Russia, China and Africa (including an "Apart-Hate" classroom experiment with the students). The Third Wave was part of the study of world conditions and events that led up to WWII.

Ron Jones was 25 year old young teacher very supportive of his students and those around him,

students were mostly age 15, and in 10th grade ("Sophomores"). There were additional Cubberley students who regularly skipped other classes to attend Jones' classes, and still more who were recruited as new Third Wave members by the students.

It began as a game in class, was initially fun, and school grades depended on active participation. Ron Jones was the most popular teacher in school, young, and very charismatic. The students had already been in the class with him for 6 months, they trusted him, and this was not the first experiment they had done in class. When it became "real" there was promise of a new national student movement that would do a better job running the country than the current "establishment" Democrats and Republicans who were pursuing the Viet Nam war. The boys in class were about 2 years from being subject to the military draft and being forced to fight in that war by the government (they also needed good grades to get into college where they could be deferred from military service).

there was an anti-Wave group known as the Breakers. They got a custodian to let them into Mr. Jones's room, and they put up anti-Wave posters. Then Bill and Hal got a custodian to let them in, and they took pictures of the posters. Source: Lyle Burkhead "The Third Wave - evidence from people who were there" <>

Palo Alto was already the heart of "Silicon Valley" with Stanford University, think tanks, research institutions, aerospace facilities and early high-tech companies in the area.

Jones' Third Wave also caught the attention of Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo, whose famous "Stanford prison experiment" several years later resulted in college students lapsing into sadism and eventual emotional breakdown after being assigned the role of guard in prison.

"Situations exert much more influence over human behavior than people acknowledge," explains Zimbardo, who has invited Jones to speak to classes many times.

Although Jones says he would never repeat the Third Wave, he insists it could easily happen today, anywhere in the United States, for a variety of reasons.

"Fascism is always a possibility because it's so simple and people are frustrated. They lose their jobs, their dignity, their sense of worth, and someone comes along and says, "I've got the answer."

School systems prepare the ground, Jones says by using only standardized tests for success and failing to recognize alternative paths of learning, as well as a wider variety of individual achievements.

Educational institutions weed out troublemakers and those who are difficult to teach, he contends, rewarding placid students who want to succeed at any cost and will accept authority.

"That's the sad thing. Teachers can trigger it by telling students they're special, they're part of a community, that they can do special things. All they have to give is their loyalty," Jones concludes. "It happens every day in school, only the paraphernalia isn't there. Kids aren't learning to ask questions. You create a population where freedom's just a spelling word."


Ron Jones in 2010

Who is Ron Jones ?

Ron Jones is the history teacher at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, U.S.A. who conducted the experiment with his students called "The Third Wave". He is the son of a Jewish mother and an Irish Catholic father. Today, Ron Jones volunteers teaching poetry for the mentally disabled in San Francisco at Creativity Explored and coaches his granddaughter's 5th grade girls basketball team. He performs regularly on local stages as a poet and spoken word artist. He is the author of many books and winner of a Peabody Award for Outstanding Journalism and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.

Radio Interview About The Third Wave

"More than 40 years ago, a history teacher named Ron Jones unleashed a social experiment meant to teach his students a lesson about fascism. Five days later, it had spiraled out of his control. And today, his former students are still trying to decide how to think about what happened. Ron Jones joined us this morning to fill in the blanks. He was in San Francisco. Philip Neel was one of the students in Ron Jones' class in 1967. He is also the director of a new documentary about the experience called Lesson Plan: The Story of the Third Wave. Philip Neel was in Culver City, California. And Alyssa Reit is also another former student and is now a musician in New York City.

"The Wave" a 1981 young adult novel

The Novel: The Wave

"The Wave" is a 1981 young adult novel by Todd Strasser under the pen name Morton Rhue. It is a novelization of a teleplay by Johnny Dawkins for the movie The Wave, a fictionalized account of the "Third Wave" teaching experiment by Ron Jones that took place in a Cubberley High School history class in Palo Alto, California. The novel by Strasser won the 1981 Massachusetts Book Award for Children's/Young Adult literature.

Actor Bruce Davison as teacher Burt Ross in "The Wave" (1981)

Movie: The Wave (1981)

  • "The Wave" (TV special) Directed by Alexander Grasshoff; Fern Field; Ron Jones; Actors include Bruce Davison as teacher Burt Ross; Lori Lethin; John Putch; Wesley Ann Pfenning; T.A.T. Communications Company.; BN Publishing. ©1981,2008
    Originally produced as part of the ABC Afterschool Special series, the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning The Wave proved so powerful that the network chose to debut the film as one of three entries in its prime-time ABC Theater for Young Americans. Based on a real-life incident that occurred in Palo Alto, CA, in 1969 (and was subsequently chronicled as both a magazine article and a full length book), the film stars Bruce Davison as high-school history teacher Bruce Ross. Frustrated because his students evince a lack of interest in and comprehension of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, Ross decides to stage a dramatic "social experiment." He indoctrinates his unwitting charges in a radical new movement called "The Wave," which he claims will give them "a feeling you're part of something that's more important than yourself." Part and parcel of The Wave is a strict set of social-behavior guidelines, unquestioning loyalty to the cause, and an open contempt for those "inferiors" who have not been invited to join the movement. Not unexpectedly, The Wave gets out of hand, and soon the entire school is held in the thrall of a frightening new form of neo-fascism. Just when the experiment threatens to go too far, Ross shocks his students back to their senses by running newsreel footage of The Wave's "true leader" (guess who!). The Wave finally made its ABC Afterschool Special bow on March 30, 1983, two years after its initial nighttime presentation.The powerful forces of group pressure that pervaded many historic movements such as Nazism are recreated in the classroom when history teacher Burt Ross introduces a "new" system to his students. Before long "The Wave," with its rules of "strength through discipline, community and action," sweeps from the classroom throughout the entire school. As most of the students join the movement, Laurie Saunders and David Collins recognize the frightening momentum of "The Wave" and realize they must stop it before it's too late.

DVD The Wave (2008)

Movie: The Wave (2008)

  • "The Wave" (2008) Trailer for the film by by Dennis Gansel. Actor Jürgen Vogel plays teacher Rainer Wenger. THE WAVE is based on a real event from a Californian high school in 1967 and transposed to Germany today. A cautionary tale about the roots of fascism. The film opens in a rush of energy with charismatic teacher Rainer Wegner beginning a week long class on autocracy. To indifferent students, its a hard sell, but Wegner gets an idea for an experiment: as their leader he asks the students to call him Mr Wegner, chooses the motto strength through discipline, creates a logo, decides that everyone wears a white shirt, and names the group, The Wave adding a secret sign reminiscent of a Nazi salute. Much to their surprise the students find that they like the power of unity and soon this new found discipline spills over to other school activities and newcomers join the group. The Wave gives the kids something to believe in for a change, until they go too far and The Wave spins out of control.
  • IMDB Description
  • Wikipedia Description
  • Purchase the DVD from
  • Purchase the DVD from

DVD "Lesson Plan: The Story of The Third Wave" (2010)

Documentary "Lesson Plan"

Other Documentaries About The Third Wave

Web Sites About The Third Wave

  • A web site managed and overseen by original participants in The Third Wave experiment at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, in the hope that what they learned will be useful to others, as we all try to coexist in this confused and chaotic world. Contains the latest news of their activities, along with the most complete and accurate information about their experience.
  • A web site managed and overseen Diederik Rep in the Netherlands.