The Wave by Morton Rhue – focusing on the not so obvious

Let’s talk about The Wave, by Morton Rhue, alias Todd Strasser. This is a book that many of us are reading in our five point literature program. For some of our students it is an easy book to read and for others, a challenge. There are many questions that arise during the plot of the story, based on a real situation in a California high school in the 1960’s. The story is concerned with the tendency for people to blindly become part of a group at the expense of their own individual freedom to think. The plot revolves around a high school teacher who tries to answer his students’ questions about how, if only 10% of the Germans were affiliated with the Nazi party, did Hitler and his thugs manage to murder 6 million Jews? Why didn’t the 90% stop the 10%? Ben, the fictionalized name of the teacher, decides to do an experiment with his class. He creates what he calls, The Wave, a  group of students whose mottoes encompass a passion for discipline, community and action. The experiment goes too far when students are threatened, afraid to disagree with the group and even physically injured.  

One of the questions that we need to focus on as educators is the power that we can wield over our students. When I read this book I asked myself, didn’t this teacher go too far in trying to impart a message, albeit a moral lesson, to his students? We try, as teachers, to inculcate values into our teaching as well as to present the material in interesting and innovative ways to our students; however, we must also remember that our words and our actions can have a deleterious effect on the impressionable young minds sitting before us.  When I taught The Wave, I felt the lesson of not blindly joining a group or giving up your individual freedom to “group think” was an obvious message. Less obvious is the issue about the teacher using his students in an experiment that could cause some irreparable psychological damage. Let’s ask our students to analyze Ben Ross’s actions as well as the students who participate in his experiment. Does the end justify the means? In other words, Ben Ross’s intentions were good, but the method he devised to teach his lesson must be challenged and critiqued.  Below is a link to succinct and well-written summaries on each chapter of The Wave, edited by Renee Pen. This will help teachers and students in reviewing the material for the log exam or the Bagrut exam. Thank you Renee!

THE WAVE Renee Pen unit for ETC

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