I recently watched a German film called ‘The Wave’. It is based on a real life experiment that happened. The concept fascinated me so I did a bit of research on the actual experiment!
The story is based on a real experiment that took place at Cubbereley High school in ‘Palo Alto’ California, on the first week of April 1967.
The experiment was undertaken by Ron Jones, a history teacher. Jones wanted to show his sophomore students how powerful the pressure to belong could be, and explain fascism to his class. Fascism is when a government tries to lead you and dictate the way you live, think and so on. A common example is the Nazis. Nazis were fascists and led by Hitler up to and during the WWII.
In the experiment Jones wanted the students to realise why people would see individuality as a drawback of Democracy. Jones articulated this main point by instilling the motto: “strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride.” He felt that this would practically show them how susceptible people are to such ideologies.
Jones applied the fundamentals of autocratic government (Unity, Discipline, Equality, Community) and applied them in his class, he was glued to the fact that this would show his students how prone, or at risk people are to ideologies such as this one.
Jones started the first day of the experiment with simple exercises, such as good posture, proper seating, and he also had an arranged seating plan for the students. He made the students stand to ask or answer question and they were required to address Ron as ‘Mr Jones’ He thought this would make them a little more engaged in the experiment and feel the vibe of an orderly and disciplined community.
By the third day Jones had given the group a name, and had made up a salute which he ordered class members to use and salute each other even outside of the class.
The experiment attracted lots of students and there were over two hundred participants at the end of it. The ‘third wave’ members even showed dramatic improvements in their academic areas of work! Each of the students felt as if they belonged to the movement and Jones assigned them roles such as designing third wave banners, stopping non members from entering the class etc.
However by the fourth day of the experiment, Jones brought the movement to an end as it spiralled out of control.
Does this go to show how susceptible we are to autocratic ideas? Do we really need them? Or do we just think we do? Is the feeling to belong and fit in really that powerful? Are we that close to extremism that we don’t even know it? Is it really that easy to be susceptible? To get carried away?
Why were the students so engaged with the ideas? What might it tell us about people today? About our society?