Viewpoint: A Dangerous Experiment

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Thanks to Bill Johnson and the Palo Alto Weekly for allowing us to reprint this importantarticle at the Cybrary.

Publication Date: Friday Apr 15, 1994

A dangerous experiment by Susan Jackson Copyright 1994 All Rights Reserved.

When Ron Jones started teaching at Cubberley High School in the fall of1968, it was considered the most innovative of Palo Alto’s high schools.That’s why the 26-year-old graduate student in the Stanford TeacherEducation Program wanted to teach there.His methods were experimental and his goal was to bring social studies tolife. And because it was the ’60s, Jones was caught up in a whirlwind ofstudent activism the likes of which Palo Alto had never seen before.

But what gained Jones an international reputation was an experiment inwhich students, the school’s principal and other members of the communityflirted with aspects of Nazism for a week.

Jones formulated the idea during a discussion on Nazi Germany when astudent insisted “it couldn’t happen here.”

To find out, Jones turned his class into an efficient youthorganization, which he called the Third Wave. Some students were informers,and some were told they couldn’t go certain places on campus. He insistedon rigid posture and that questions be answered formally and quickly.

The experiment, initially scheduled for one day, stretched into five.”It was strange how quickly the students took to a uniform code ofbehavior. I began to wonder just how far they cold be pushed,” Jones wrotein “No Substitute for Madness,” a book that chronicled the experiment.

To his surprise, Jones found that students recited facts more accuratelyin this authoritarian environment and that he had no discipline problems.One previously lost soul suddenly had a role in the school–he becameJones’ bodyguard.

But soon the experiment began spinning out of control.

At a Friday assembly, five days into the experiment, Jones announced,”We can bring (the nation) a new sense of order, community, pride, andaction. Everything rests on you and your willingness to take a stand,” hetold students.

As one, the students shouted, “Strength through discipline!”

After a long silence, Jones began to speak. “There is no such thing as anational youth movement called the Third Wave. You have been used.Manipulated. Shoved by your own desires into the place you now findyourselves.”

He showed a movie of Hitler at the Nuremberg rally. The students andteachers saw that they had only too readily adopted many of the behaviorsthey were witnessing on the screen. They realized the possibility that itcould happen here.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” Jones said in 1991. “I put students at risk.”Jones’ “bodyguard” broke down in tears after the rally, as did many otherstudents. And while the students were learning more facts, “they gave uptheir freedom” during the experiment, he said.

The Third Wave didn’t become public knowledge for years. Joneseventually wrote about it, long after he had left teaching, in “NoSubstitute for Madness,” one of his 30 books. A movie and a play were madeabout the experiment.

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