In spring 1967, in Palo Alto, California, high school history teacher Ron Jones conducted a social experiment in fascism with his class of 10th-grade 15-year-olds, to sample the experience of the attraction and rise of the Nazis in Germany before World War II. In a matter of days the experiment began to spin out of control, as those attracted to the movement became aggressive zealots and the rigid rules invited confusion and chaos. This story has attracted considerable attention over the years through films, books, plays and musicals, and verges on urban legend. It serves as a teaching tool, to facilitate discussion of those uncomfortable topics of history, human nature, psychology, charismatic leaders, group behavior, intolerance and hate.
The primary purpose of this website is to document and share with teachers, students and media both the original experiment and the variations on the Wave story over the years. As the story is told and re-told, reported and fictionalized, carried in the news and blogged on the internet, it is becoming more difficult to learn what really happened. There has also been more information available recently from the original students, and that has been very helpful in sorting things out. This is intended to be a comprehensive and current collection of material and news, mostly from original primary sources. Student names are generally left out to protect their privacy.
It is also the purpose here to support the discussion of this dark and never-ending side of human nature. In today’s confused and chaotic world, it seems that polarization, persecution, political and religious extremism, cults, gangs and bullying are as prevalent as ever. The risks and stakes have never been higher, and this lesson is needed now more than ever.
This website is overseen and managed by original participants in The Third Wave experiment, and will contain the latest news of our activities, along with the most complete and accurate information about our experience. We hope you find it helpful in your research and studies, and please feel free to reach out to us via the Contact page. We also travel when possible to support schools using the story, and for presentations at film festivals and to community organizations.
1967 Original “Third Wave” Class, Palo Alto, California
1976 Ron Jones First Short Story “The Third Wave”
1981 Norman Lear ABC-TV Movie “The Wave”
1981 Todd Strasser (Morton Rhue) Novelization “The Wave”
2008 German Movie “Die Welle”
2010 Third Wave Documentary Film “Lesson Plan”
2019 Netflix Germany Miniseries “We Are The Wave”
2019 A+E TV Germany Documentary “The Invisible Line”
What You Can Do
Be curious, ask questions
Look beyond the obvious
Decide who you want to be
Speak out, stand up, get involved
Think global, act local
The Museum page shows photos from the original Third Wave school
Theater projects – plays and musicals – professional and schools