The Third Wave (experiment)

The Third Wave was an experimental social movement created by California high school history teacher Ron Jones in 1967 to explain how the German population could accept the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War.[1][2] While he taught his students about Nazi Germany during his "Contemporary World History" class, Jones found it difficult to explain how the German people could accept the actions of the Nazis, and decided to create a social movement as a demonstration of the appeal of fascism. Over the course of five days (or nine, according to student Sherry Toulsey), Jones – a member of the SDS,[3] Cubberley United Student Movement sponsor[4] and Black Panthers supporter[5] – conducted a series of exercises in his classroom emphasizing discipline and community, intended to model certain characteristics of the Nazi movement. As the movement grew outside his class and began to number in the hundreds, Jones began to feel that the movement had spiraled out of control. He convinced the students to attend a rally where he claimed that the classroom project was part of a nationwide movement, and that the announcement of a Third Wave presidential candidate would be televised. Upon their arrival, the students were presented with a blank channel. Jones told his students of the true nature of the movement as an experiment in fascism, and presented to them a short film discussing the actions of Nazi Germany.[6]

The project was adapted into an American film, The Wave, in 1981, and a critically-acclaimed German film Die Welle in 2008.

Background to the Third Wave experimentEdit

The experiment took place at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, during the first week of April 1967.[1] Jones, finding himself unable to explain to his students how the German population could have claimed ignorance of The Holocaust, decided to demonstrate it to them instead.[6] Jones started a movement called "The Third Wave" and told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy.[1] The idea that democracy emphasises individuality was considered as a drawback, and Jones emphasised this main point of the movement in its motto: "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride."[1]

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,[7][3] and one more issue of the paper has a longer article about this experiment at its conclusion.[1] Jones himself wrote a detailed account of the experiment some nine years afterward[6] and more articles about the experiment followed, including some interviews with Jones and the original students.[2]


First dayEdit

Ron Jones writes that he started the first day of the experiment with simple things such as proper seating and extensively drilling the students (who were in their senior year of school).[6] He wrote "Strength Through Discipline" on the classroom's chalkboard, then proceeding to enforce strict classroom discipline while speaking on the importance of discipline.

The first day's session was closed with only a few rules, being rather simple and 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".[6]

Second dayEdit

On the second day, Jones decided to continue the experiment after observing his students' strict adherence to the previous day's rules. Jones added "Strength Through Community" to the chalk board, and proceeded to name his movement "The Third Wave". Jones based the name of his movement on the supposed fact that the third in a series of waves is the strongest.[6] Jones created a salute involving a cupped hand reaching across the chest toward the opposite shoulder[6] resembling a Hitler salute,[1] and ordered class members to salute each other both in and outside of the class.[6] Jones then assigned each of his students an individual assignment, such as designing a Third Wave Banner, stopping non-members from entering the class, or recruiting their friends to join the movement.

Third dayEdit

On the third day, the experiment took on a life of its own. Students from all over the school joined in, with the class expanding from an initial 30 students to a total of 43. Jones added "Strength Through Action" to the chalkboard. All of the students were issued a member card. Jones instructed the students on how to initiate new members, and by the end of the day the movement had over 200 participants.[6] Jones instructed three students to report to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules, but was surprised that around twenty of the students made such reports.[6] The students proceeded to conduct trials for those thought to be insufficiently loyal to the movement, with punishment consisting of banishment to the school library.[6]

Fourth dayEdit

On the fourth day of the experiment, Jones decided to terminate the movement because it was slipping out of his control. The students had become increasingly involved in the project. For example, several students independently created a bodyguard division that physically attacked dissenting students as well as a reporter for the school newspaper. Jones announced to the class that this movement was a part of a nationwide movement and that on the next day a presidential candidate of the Third Wave would publicly announce its existence. Jones ordered students to attend a noon rally on Friday to witness the announcement.[6]

Fifth and last dayEdit

The students all arrived ten minutes early to the noon rally. Jones had convinced several of his friends to pose as reporters, and asked the students to demonstrate all that they had learned in the minutes before the televised address would start. He then lead them in repeating shouting chants of "Strength through Discipline! Strength Through Community! Strength Through Action!" He then turned on the TV placed in the middle of the room. 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 like German citizens had in the period of Nazi Germany. He then apologized to them for how far it all had gone, and played them a film about the Nazi regime to conclude the experiment.[6]


On October 10, 2010, the documentary, Lesson Plan, which retold the story of the Third Wave through interviews with the original students and teacher, debuted at the Mill Valley Film Festival.[8] It was produced by Philip Neel, one of Jones's own former students.


  • The events of the experiment were adapted into a 1981 US TV special, The Wave. This formed the basis for the Young Adult novelization of the same name by Todd Strasser, who conducted the story of the Third Wave into a modern time period, who used the pen name Morton Rhue in Europe.
  • It Can't Happen Here, the 86th book in the Sweet Valley Twins series, features a substitute teacher who conducts an experiment very similar in nature to The Third Wave.
  • In 2001, a musical adaptation written by Olaf Pyttlik premiered at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Canada.
  • The 2008 German film Die Welle transferred the experiment to a modern-day German classroom. The film received critical acclaim.
  • "The Pride of Lakewood", a 2010 episode of children's animated series Arthur, was loosely based on the Third Wave experiment. In it, students who form a community pride group become fascistic.
  • In 2010, Jones staged a musical called The Wave, written with some of the students in the class.[9]
  • The events were adapted into a straight play version in 2011 by Joseph Robinette and Ron Jones.

See alsoEdit


^ In,[7] 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,[1] published on April 21, the experiment is dated "two weeks ago", which also puts the experiment in the first week of April – it specifically calls out "...Wednesday, April 5, the last day of the movement."


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bill Klink (April 21, 1967). "'Third Wave' presents inside look into Fascism". Cubberley Catamount. Vol. 11 no. 14. Ellwood P. Cubberley High School. Retrieved 2015-05-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Leslie Weinfield (September 1991). "Remembering the 3rd Wave". Ron Jones Website. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved July 19, 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Charles Scott (December 8, 1967). "The Games People Play..." Cubberley Catamount. Vol. 12 no. 6. Ellwood P. Cubberley High School. Retrieved 2015-05-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ ""Lesson Plan, the story of The Third Wave"". Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  5. ^ "The Catamount: "Society is Sterile" -- R. Jones". Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Jones, Ron (1972). "The Third Wave". Archived from the original on 2005-02-22. Retrieved 2016-12-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link), and Jones, Ron (1976). "The Third Wave". The Wave Home. Archived from the original on 2015-02-02. Retrieved 2016-12-03. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b Bernice Sakuma & Robin Leler (April 7, 1967). "Through the Tiger Eye". Cubberley Catamount. Vol. 11 no. 13. Ellwood P. Cubberley High School. Retrieved 2015-05-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Whiting, Sam (January 30, 2010). "In 'The Wave,' ex-teacher Ron Jones looks back". SFGate. Retrieved 2015-05-14. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

Further readingEdit

  • 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").

External linksEdit