This page deals with frequently asked questions about The Third Wave, and the subsequent Wave stories 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 original 1967 class was called “The Third Wave” and is now more commonly known as “The Wave.” The most comprehensive accounts of the original Third Wave class are the two documentary films, called “Lesson Plan” and “The Invisible Line,” which include interviews with original teacher Ron Jones and several original Third Wave students.
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 three 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 privacy.
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"The Third Wave" vs. "The Wave"
“The Third Wave” is the name of the original 1967 social experiment in fascism by history teacher Ron Jones at Cubberley High School, in Palo Alto, California. “The Wave” is the shortened name used for the class, and all the fictional Wave stories since then. “The Third Wave” came from surfing, not the Third Reich (surfers wait behind the waves for a big strong wave to ride, in this case the third wave), as Palo Alto is 40 miles from the Santa Cruz surfing beaches.
What was the Third Wave class social experiment?
In spring 1967, at Cubberley Senior High School in Palo Alto, California, history teacher Ron Jones was asked during a Holocaust lesson about the appeal and rise of the Nazis. To give the students a taste of fascism, he proposed a classroom experiment, where he would be the dictator and the students were members of the movement. Over the course of several days it rolled out. A name (“The Third Wave”), membership cards, armbands, a logo, a salute, and slogans (“Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” “Strength Through Action”). Lots of rules of behavior, and a secret police to help Jones enforce the rules. Jones and the students got more and more into their roles, as they aggressively stormed around the school campus. What had started out as a seemingly fun activity, became more sinister as Jones and many students got carried away. The twist was when Jones told them it was not a classrrom experiment, but the beginning of a nationwide movement of student groups in support of a new third political party that would take over the country and get out of the Vietnam war. The membership grew as the new direction generated enthusiasm and more support. Jones ended the experiment in a final rally, where students were led to believe they would witness the announcement on TV by the new leader of the new national party. Instead, Jones announced they had been misled, and ran German WWII period propaganda movies showing where they were headed. The 1981 ABC-TV movie “The Wave” is a very close reenactment of what happened in this class.
Where did the Third Wave class social experiment happen?
Ellwood P. Cubberley Senior High School, Palo Alto, California, USA. The Ron Jones classroom was room C-3, and the final Third Wave rally was in room H-1. The high school was closed in 1979, and the facility is now the Cubberley Community Center. The buildings are still the same as they were then, but there is ongoing talk of changing the buildings and/or uses on the property.
When did the Third Wave class social experiment happen?
The Third Wave happened in late March and early April, 1967. While the experiment is generally described as a one-week event, there are several 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. So it was likely between 5 and 8 days in length (either way, very quickly). Looking back, one student interviewed for the “Lesson Plan” documentary said it felt like 6 weeks, and another recently said it felt like the whole semester.
Tell us about the Third Wave 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: https://ronjoneswriter.com
Tell us about the Third Wave 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 = Sophomores/Juniors/Seniors). 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 United States (Palo Alto schools always rank very high in national surveys). The hippie counterculture movement was still a few months away, so the students were mostly clean-cut and well behaved.
What about overall Third Wave history class?
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. 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 Vietnam war through the final weeks 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.
What about the Third Wave school?
Ellwood P. Cubberley Senior High School in Palo Alto, California, was named after a prominent early 20th century education leader (ultimately the Dean of the nearby Stanford School of Education). At the time of the Third Wave class, it had approximately 1,200 students, spread across three grades (10/11/12 = sophomores, juniors, seniors), so about 400 in each of those three grades. Cubberley students came from three junior high schools (Jordan, Terman, Wilbur), and many had been friends prior to that in the city’s many elementary schools. Palo Alto had three high schools at the time, and Cubberley was the more liberal experimental school. This is in keeping with the overall region, now known as Silicon Valley, which was already then a hub of creativity and innovation. Cubberley was built as a one-level school, with wings of classrooms connected by outdoor hallways. While the school was closed in 1979, the buildings remain today as they were then as the Cubberley Community Center. See photos on the “Museum” page.
West Coast music was popular at the time, and Palo Alto was well connected to the San Francisco music scene. Three weeks after the Third Wave class ended, Buffalo Springfield played at Cubberley on April 27, then Quicksilver Messenger Service played the Cubberley graduation event on June 16, and then on December 15 the Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band played at Cubberley (featuring Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who would soon go on to Fleetwood Mac). Jerry Garcia taught guitar at the local music store, and Cubberley graduates include a founding member of Santana and Journey, and another graduate was a member of Jefferson Starship. Great music blog here.
Tell us about the City and region
The City of Palo Alto, California, is about 30 miles south of San Francisco. It is the heart of the technology region known as Silicon Valley. Directly adjacent to Stanford University, it is also a major education and professional center. The Hewlett-Packard Company was founded in a Palo Alto garage in 1939. NASA has a major space science research center nearby, also since 1939 (with the world’s largest wind tunnel). The world’s longest linear accelerator is on the Stanford Campus (2 miles long). Palo Alto continues to be a center of creativity, innovation and experimentation with many of the world’s best known tech companies headquartered there or nearby (Google, Facebook, Apple, eBay, Tesla, and many more).
What were "the times" like then?
It is easy to think of “the Sixties” as the time of hippies, social unrest, and psychedelic rock-and-roll. But it was not like that during the Third Wave class in spring 1967. The cultural revolution did not fully emerge until the 1967 “Summer of Love” which was a few months after the Third Wave class. The time of the Third Wave class was the very last bit of the “early Sixties” state of things (more like the Fifties). Popular music was still the Beach Boys and the Monkees. It was not until that summer that the San Francisco bands took off, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper, and Jimi Hendrix emerged on the scene.
Students at Cubberley were still bound by strict conservative rules. Boys had to have short hair, and girls were required to wear dresses to school.
Politically, there was unrest in the country. The civil rights movement shook things up, and the Vietnam War was still supported by a majority of the population (1,000 soldiers were dying per month in spring 1967). The war was not popular in the San Francisco area, and the draft was very controversial (a boy could be drafted at age 18, but could not vote until age 21).
What about the Third Wave logo?
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 Museum page).
What about the Third Wave salute?
Arm out to the side, bent 90 degrees at the elbow, with a raised cupped hand like a wave (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.
How many students were involved in The Third Wave?
While the story is traditionally told in the context of a single class of about 30 students (Ron Jones’ morning “homeroom” class), there were in fact three Third Wave classes taught at the same time by Jones (per the school newspaper – Catamount, April 21, 1967, page 3), which formed an initial group of about 90 Third Wave members. There were additional Cubberley students who frequently skipped other classes to attend Jones’ classes, and still more who were recruited as new Third Wave members by the students. 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.
Why were students attracted to The Third Wave?
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 the promise of a national student movement arm of a new third political party that would do a better job running the country than the current “establishment” Democrats and Republicans who were pursuing the Vietnam 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, reactions of the students varied. 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. Student memories and feelings today vary as well, as reflected in the two Third Wave documentaries “Lesson Plan” and “Invisible Line.”
Was there student 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 documentary film “Lesson Plan.”
Was the Third Wave anti-Semitic or racist?
No, the Third Wave was not antisemitic or racist – it did not cross that line. Most of the Third Wave students were friends who grew up together in the Palo Alto schools, and they were not encouraged to turn against each other. 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 overall 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 1970 book “Hassling.” While the Third Wave had no scapegoat group, it was very critical of the “establishment” that was leading the US government, and which was pursuing the Vietnam war.
How about racial diversity in the Third Wave 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 would have had a similar composition.
What happened after the Third Wave final rally?
In the next regular meeting of class the day after the rally, Jones and the students discussed what had happened during the Third Wave. They shared thoughts and experiences, and reviewed what was learned from the experiment. The following Monday, they went back to routine studies of the next subject, Vietnam. 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.
What happened to the Third Wave teacher?
Two years after the Third Wave, 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 1970 book “Hassling” by Sylvia Berry Williams, and in the Cubberley Catamount school newspaper. 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.