Wow! My family just finished watching a very powerful movie. Since I am currently taking a German class, I was naturally introduced to German culture. This film, Die Welle (The Wave) was recommended. It is available through Netflix, is a German film, with a German setting, by German actors, in GERMAN! But it does have English subtitles, if you need them. I did! (I’m only in German 2, for crying out loud!) The Wave is based on a true story that took place in Palo Alto, California, in 1967.
A high school teacher, named Ron Jones, was asked by a student if something like the Holocaust could ever happen again. The class did not believe so, so Mr. Jones devised an experiment designed to demonstrate to the students that people are still vulnerable to indoctrination by a charismatic leader.
On Day One, Mr. Jones introduced the principle of discipline to the students. This included telling the students to sit up straighter, fold their arms, breathe deeply and pay more attention to him.
On Day Two, Mr Jones was quite surprised at the enthusiasm with which the students returned to the class. He introduced a symbolic hand motion, used to greet other class members. This reinforced the principle of ‘Strength in Community.”
On Day Three, Mr. Jones introduced the principle of “Strength Through Action.” The students were to work as a ‘community’ to make improvements in the world around them. The Third Wave says, “By midweek, his “experiment” expanded to sixty students, and by the week’s end, more than two hundred were participating.
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.”
My whole family was amazed and stunned by how quickly the students became indoctrinated. It had a powerful impact on my two teenage children, who rather believed they themselves were above such ‘peer pressure.’ Yet the movie portrayed just how easily it is to become loyal to priorities that are questionable. I was shocked at how much the students’ mindsets were altered in only two day.
By Day Two, they were already feeling a part of an elite community, eager to defend one another and to ostracize those outside their community. Can The Holocaust happen again? Here in America? In the 21st Century? You bet. So what do we do about it? Consider the old saying, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” This movie will bring the possibilities home to your family as powerfully as it did mine.
An interview with the teacher, Ron Jones, can be found on his website. Todd Stasser turned Mr. Jones’ story into a book for youth, titled The Wave. I have purchased for our family’s personal library so that we will never forget how suseptible we are to those around us. I’m very glad I was introduced to this movie and this story. I will keep it alive in my posterity.