Sunday, March 16, 2008

Die Welle - The Wave

On Friday I went the see the movie "Die Welle". It is based on an experiment by Ron Jones that took place April 1967 in his Highschool history class. Jones' objective was to demonstrate to his students that if the context is right and the slogans strong and clear enough, individuality and critical thinking can easily be replaced by a kind of mass-"consciousness" with fascist tendencies.

In 1972, 5 Years after the experiment Ron Jones wrote down his view of the experience - called at that time The Third Way. You can find his report here :

In this report Ron Jones tells us how it all started: "We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people. How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage. How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren't there when it happened. it was a good question. I didn't know the answer."

In only five days the students experienced the metamorphoses from critical thinkers to subjects completely submitted to discipline and authority similar to the one of Nazi regime.

Ron Jones : "We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did. No. it's right here. In this room. In our own personal habits and way of life. Scratch the surface and it appears. Something in all of us. We carry it like a disease. The belief that human beings are basically evil and therefore unable to act well toward each other. A belief that demands a strong leader and discipline to preserve social order."

But the experience not only has an effect on his students but also on Ron Jones himself:
"I now began to ponder not just how far this class could be pushed but how such I would change my basic beliefs toward an open classroom and self directed learning".

For my part I didn't like the end of the film to much. I prefer the version in Ron Jones report on the final day of the experience. But anyway, The film is a must for all educators and good occasion to reflect on some of the classroom rituals they sometimes impose on their students without thinking of possible drawbacks of a "uniform code of behavior" as Jones calls it.

I strongly recommend to read the original report by Jones and also read through the following Wikipedia pages
on the Milgram-Experiment :,
the Stanford-Prison-Experiment :
on Jane Elliott, best known for her workshops on racism :
and on Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann's theory of the 'spiral of silence' (Die Schweigespirale in German):

Finally Ron Jones' website :


  1. In fact, this scenario could take place in our modern world. After the movie "die Welle" I was shocked. You can' t imagine which power words can have and how they influence a human being (even in our times).
    So think about this:
    "We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did. No. it's right here. In this room. In our own personal habits and way of life. Scratch the surface and it appears. Something in all of us. We carry it like a disease. The belief that human beings are basically evil and therefore unable to act well toward each other. A belief that demands a strong leader and discipline to preserve social order."(Ron Jones)

  2. Years ago, I have read the book at school so I was really interested in seeing the film! After seeing it, I was a little bit shocked, I started to ask myself how I would have reacted towards that kind of situation...and I could not find an answer. This caused some kind of fear as I realized that we can never be 100% sure that it will never happen again.
    Unfortunately I have to agree with the phrase of Ron Jones in which he says "We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did"
    How would I behave, I don't really know, of course I say now that I would never go with the "wave" but can we be sure about our behaviour, can human pressure an group pressure be stronger than personal convictions? Especially because I have a jewish family background, I felt personnally concerned by the film....

  3. In highschool I once read the book and I really liked it. When I heard that there was going to be a movie I was really looking forward to it. I really liked it but as you already said in your comment, I didn't like the end. I think that this end (an hollywood film end) made the film less realistic than the book. I think if they hadn't changed the end the message would have been more effectiv.
    But after all it was interesting to see that "such things" can still happen again, eventhough people should have learnend from the past.

  4. I've also read the book "Die Welle" at school years ago. I found it interesting to read, because it was something very different from all the other books I've ever read before. In some case I found it shocking, because I never thought that something like that would be possible.That's why I was also interested in seing the film. I was surprised, that the film was placed in relation with the modern world and that it ended differently than the ending of the book. I think that the ending of the film changed the message of the book...

  5. Hey,
    I red the book "Die Welle" a long time ago in school and I was really shocked but also fascinated by the story at the same time. I think that the message of the story is really strong and serves both as a reminder of what has passed and a warning regarding the future.
    However I havn't seen the new movie yet (yes, it exists an OLD movie), but after reading all the comments, I now have to see it for sure.
    Note: The story reminded me of the german movie "Das Experiment", which deals with the same "difficulty" as "Die Welle".

  6. "Yes, we would all have made good Germans"(Ron Jones, 1972)
    We are all convinced that in times of "Nazi Germany" we would have stepped aside and said that we don't want to be part of this massacre.
    Fact is that German people are not worse than any other nation. Why would they follow a totally megalomaniac leader and we wouldn't. Like Sascha quoted: "We have seen that fascism is not just something those other people did. No. it's right here. In this room. In our own personal habits and way of life. Scratch the surface and it appears."
    We have to keep in mind that human nature is part of every human being.


Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain