This page deals with frequently asked questions about The Third Wave, and the
subsequent films, books, plays and musicals that have followed. There is
confusing and conflicting information in the media and on the internet, so this
will hopefully clarify the facts where they are known and present the perspectives
on others that may never be resolved.
"The Third Wave" 1967
NOTE: History is not an exact science, as experiences of the
participants varied at the time, and the impacts then and memories now will vary.
There were also 3 Third Wave classes going simultaneously (see below), which
also accounts for why some students remember things differently than others. The attempt here is to get the most objective complete answers possible,
respecting and recognizing the variety of experiences and memories of the
participants. It is best to focus on the overall lessons, rather than to be too concerned about
precisely what occurred, since the differences do not really change the overall
story. Names of the original students are not used, to protect their
- Where did it happen?
- Elwood P. Cubberley Senior High School, 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.
- When did it happen - how long did it last?
- Probably between 5 and 8 school days (either way,
very quickly). While the experiment is generally described as a
one-week event, there are some Third Wave students who remember it running into a
second week. It is generally agreed by all involved that it began on a
Monday. 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. Looking
back, one student interviewed for the "Lesson Plan" documentary
said it felt like 6 weeks.
- What about the class overall?
- 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.
After The Third Wave, the subject was the Viet Nam war through the end of the
school year. All year long, Jones presented the various sides of those
subjects and their issues, through a wide variety of material including
visiting speakers and films. He encouraged critical analysis of the
material, and independent thinking.
- Tell us about the teacher
- Ron Jones was young (age 25), handsome, charismatic,
enthusiastic, involved, energetic, innovative, very supportive of his
students and those around him, and always had a smile on his face. He
is still young at heart, and all of those things. This was his first
full year as a teacher. Throughout the
school year in this "Contemporary World" history class, he placed an
emphasis on helping the students understand the different perspectives on
issues, and learn to think for themselves. His website with
more info is:
- Tell us about the students
- The students were mostly age 15, and in 10th
grade ("Sophomores"). This was their first year at Cubberley Senior
High School. Most came from the three nearby junior high schools, and
some had been friends for years in the elementary schools before that.
Cubberley had about 1,200 students in three grades (10th/11th/12th =
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. Most of the families were middle or upper middle class,
with professional parents and students preparing to go to college. Cubberley was a school that prided itself on creativity and experimentation,
and was likely one of the best high schools in the US (Palo Alto schools
always rank very high in surveys). The hippie counterculture movement
was still a few months away, so the students were mostly clean-cut and well
- How many students were involved?
- While the story is told in the context of a single
class of about 30 students (Ron Jones' "homeroom" class), there were in fact
3 Third Wave classes taught at the same time by Jones (per the school
Catamount, April 21, 1967, page 3), which formed an
initial group of about 90 Third Wave members. 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. Some Cubberley teacher friends of Jones began to become
involved. The school principal was rumored to be seen giving the salute.
There was Third Wave news in the morning announcements over the Cubberley PA
system, so the entire school heard it mentioned. Word
of the Third Wave activities also reached the other two Palo Alto high school
campuses. At the final Third Wave rally, there were up to 200 Third
Wave student members in the room.
- What was the environment at the time? [school/Bay Area/national]
- Answer will go here
- Why were the students attracted to it?
- 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).
Peer pressure played a role, and for some students it was much more - a chance to be part of something
greater than themselves, part of a group, part of a special group...
- Did all students react the same?
- No - as in real-world situations, some were
active Third Wave members, many simply went along with it or stayed out of
the way, and a few did
acts of resistance. Reactions varied when it ended as well, where some
said they thought it was a game all along, and others admitted to having
bought into it.
- What happened after the final rally?
- In the next regular meeting of class after the
rally, Jones and the students discussed what had happened during The Wave.
They shared thoughts and experiences, and reviewed what was learned from the
experiment. In the meeting of class after that, they went back to
routine studies of the next subject, Viet Nam. Some students were able
to make the transition readily to the new studies, while others needed more
time to reflect, decompress and recover from the Third Wave experience.
- Was there resistance?
- Yes, there was some, conducted by a few individuals
who remained secret (the secret police prevented groups from forming, as
trust was difficult between students). The most visible acts by one
key student are presented in the Lesson Plan documentary film.
- Was the Third Wave anti-Semitic or racist?
- No, the Third Wave was not anti-Semitic or racist
- it did not cross that line. There were
a few Jewish students who participated in the class, and most of the Third Wave students were
friends who grew up together in the Palo Alto schools. At the time of
the Third Wave, the President of the entire overall 10th-grade class of Cubberley
was a Black student elected by the 433 Sophomores (and two of the three
officers of the Senior 12-grade class were also Black). Student
organizations included an International Club and the interracial "Committee
for All Students." When "Black Power" did come to Cubberley
the following year, the white students were generally supportive on
those issues, as documented in detail in the book "Hassling".
While there was no scapegoat group, the Third Wave was,
very critical of the "establishment" that was leading the US Government, and which was
pursuing the Viet Nam war.
- How about racial diversity in the class?
- The Third Wave class was a part of the overall
10th-grade Sophomore group of students at Cubberley High School. The
1966/67 overall Sophomore class had 433 total students, of which only 10 were
Black, 21 were Asian-American, and 4 were Latino.
The Third Wave class itself was similarly mostly white, and no non-white
Third Wave students have been located so far. Note: the one Black
student sometimes identified with the Third Wave story was not in the class,
since he was two years younger and did not attend Cubberley until 18 months
- Where did the name "Third Wave" come from?
- From surfing lore (the third wave is the largest),
not from Germany. The teacher was a surfer, and Cubberley is a
one-hour drive to the Santa Cruz surfing beaches.
- How did the Third Wave logo look?
- It varied a little within the class (students each
made their own), but was
generally an outline of a stylized ocean wave, with a wide bottom and curvy top (see the
- How did the Third Wave salute go?
- Arm out to the side, bent 90 degrees at the elbow, with a
raised cupped hand (similar to the 1981 movie, without the chest pounding)
- Did the teacher have bodyguards?
- Yes - students from the Third Wave class, and also from
the older students in the Executers Car Club who were in Jones'
"Government" class of Seniors (12th grade). They added to the authenticity of the experience,
served to protect Jones in case of an incident (there were rumors of
threats), and helped in enforcement of the rules.
- Why have the students not spoken up until now?
- For some, simply because nobody asked them (prior
to the Internet, they were difficult to locate). Many have been busy
with their careers, and some are now becoming more active and available. There are still some
Third Wave students who choose not to discuss the class, and others who deny
being in the class.
- What became of the students - where are
- Most went on to college and various creative and
professional careers. They are scattered all around the US and the
world, the same as any others.
- What happened to the teacher?
- Two years later, when his teaching contract came
up for renewal, Ron Jones was denied tenure by the school district and not
allowed to continue teaching at Cubberley. This was well documented in
the book "Hassling",
and in the
Cubberley Catamount school newspapers.
The Wave experiment itself was probably not a major factor in this decision.
A few years later he began a 30-year teaching career at the
Janet Pomeroy Center in San Francisco. His many other
accomplishments and activities can be found
on his website.
movie by Norman Lear, and
book by Todd Strasser
- How close is the movie to the real Third Wave experiment?
- It is fairly close to the Ron Jones 1976 short
story, with differences noted below.
- Was there really a young couple in love who ended the experiment?
- No, this was Hollywood fiction.
- Were there uniforms?
- Not in the original Third Wave class (only
membership cards and armbands).
- Is the salute in the movie accurate?
- It is very close, without the pounding on the
chest that was added by Hollywood.
- What about the book?
- The book is a novelization of the Lear movie,
written by Todd Strasser (aka Morton Rhue)
- Why Todd Strasser and Morton Rhue?
- At the time, Todd Strasser was his name in the
US, and Morton Rhue was his penname in Europe. It is also a play on
words - Rhue is "street" in French, and Strasser is about that in German.
movie by Dennis Gansel
- What are the major differences between Die
Welle and the original Third Wave class?
- The Die Welle movie tells the Wave story in a
high school setting in present-day Germany, and it is updated with more
contemporary elements. The beginning conveys well the fun at the
beginning of the original Third Wave class, and while the students in the
film ultimately get more carried away than they did in 1967, the lessons are
the same. There was no "Project Week" at Cubberley - The Third Wave
was simply an isolated lesson in a history class.
- Were there real guns in the original
Third Wave experiment?
- No - there may have been a few toy guns and/or
toy knives around, but they did not appear and were not used during the Third Wave.
- Did the original teacher go to jail?
- No - but two years later when Jones' contract
came up for renewal, the school district denied him tenure and would not let him teach at
- Interesting facts about Die Welle:
- Director Dennis Gansel studied The Wave story as a
student in school.
Gansel felt the strong ending of his film was needed to drive home the point of the
seriousness of the subject matter (the UK and German DVDs have a softer alternate ending
to see in the Extras - no extras on the Canadian DVD).
Original teacher Ron Jones has a quick cameo appearance as a restaurant
patron during the tagging scene, and appears in the German DVD extras.
- What's up with that?
- After years of others doing plays and musicals
his story, original teacher Ron Jones has written and produced his own new musical based on the
Third Wave story. It draws on the new information that was learned
from the students in the "Lesson Plan" documentary, and includes
historical/societal elements that were "in the air" at the time The Third
Wave occurred. It was premiered by the Marsh Youth Theater's Teen
Troupe at The Marsh Theater in San Francisco in January/February 2010, and
was presented again by San Francisco's Mercy High School in April 2010.
Links with more information are provided on the "Stories"
- Where can we learn more about the new
- Keep an eye on the home page for Ron Jones:
Also a great
trailer video, and still photos by "Light
documentary film by Philip Neel
- Tell us about executive producer Philip Neel
- Philip Neel is an original Third Wave class
member, and a three-time Emmy nominee who has spent his entire career
in the film industry in Los Angeles. His many
projects are listed on
his IMDb page.
- What can we expect from the documentary?
- Over the past several years, Neel has tracked
down and interviewed many of the original Third Wave class members, as well
as the teacher Ron Jones. This documentary examines "what really
happened" in that classroom in 1967, as the original students tell their
stories for the first time, including comments by the teacher and others about the experience and the lessons that
- Where can we learn more about the documentary?
- The home page for the documentary is:
IMDb page is here
(inaccurate and incomplete)
For the movie's Facebook page click here
- Where can we see the Lesson Plan movie?
- The home page
www.lessonplanmovie.com lists the upcoming
screening dates at film festivals
- Is Lesson Plan available on DVD?
- No, not at this time, but the producers are
working on that
Miscellaneous Plays & Musicals
- List and links at the bottom of the
- More links here