Interview with Ron Jones, the teacher who created “The Wave Experiment” By, Karen Guth
English Teaching with Creativity, ETC., had the opportunity to interview Ron Jones, the teacher who created, “The Wave Experiment”, on his first visit to Israel. We met in the Mt. Zion hotel on March 24th. Ron’s trip was sponsored by The American Center in Jerusalem. The below YouTube link is a twenty minute edited version of our one and a half hour discussion. Special thanks to Ron for the time he spent with us and the insights he imparted.
See video of the interview at: http://youtu.be/j4U-rUJsa44
Ron Jones, family man, writer, educator, basketball coach, activist and storyteller extraordinaire. All of these adjectives describe the man who is perhaps most well known as the teacher who created, “The Wave experiment” in a California High School during the tumultuous 60’s. Ron, a graduate of Stanford University, made history in 1967 when he gave his students a lesson beyond what was written in their books. He opened their minds to the evils of fascism and the danger which lies dormant in the hearts of Man to be easily swayed into blindly following a charismatic leader.
The “experiment” began with a question. When studying the Holocaust, Ron’s students were puzzled as to how, if only a small percentage of Germans were part of the Nazi Party, did the majority of the citizens allow the minority to perpetrate the atrocities that led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews? Ron, a first year teacher, decided to show the class the power one can wield through, discipline, community and action. All seemingly innocuous or even positive values, unless they supersede, honoring individuality, showing empathy for one’s fellow man and embracing what might be different. “Within three days into The Wave, over 100 students were saluting, reporting on each other and vilifying those who had not joined the group”, stated Jones.
The entire experiment lasted for only five days. However, those five days changed the lives of both Jones and his students. Ron acknowledges that it was not moral for a teacher to experiment with his students in the way he did and that he, himself, got carried away with the authority and power, that being the venerated leader of the Third Wave (the name Ron gave to his group- like the Third Reich), gave to him. He gives credit to his wife and some of his students and parents in the school who eventually brought him back to his senses and forced him to bring the “experiment” to an end. “It was mainly the women who were so vehemently opposed to the tenants of The Wave, listen to the women,” he admonishes.
When asked to give some examples of how people were changed by this experience, Ron says that one of the students, a world famous chef, refuses to join any group, even a Parent Teacher Association, because of her visceral fear of groups, as a result of The Wave. Another student, a multimillionaire, refuses to sign any contracts because of his lack of trust in his fellow Man. Many of Ron’s former students have become activists, involved with the plight of the downtrodden, the invisible and the weaker members of society.
Jones attributes the change, which occurred to these young people, was not simply due to “The Wave experiment”, but also as a result of the turbulent times in which they lived. “There was a War (Vietnam) which no one wanted, racial tensions, drugs, changing music; the times were ripe for change. People had to decide who they wanted to be.” One could argue that our current times engender the same challenges for our young people.
Over the past 47 years Ron has been busy writing more than 25 books, 10 plays , working with mentally and physically challenged individuals and speaking all over the world to people about his experiences and the importance of finding a passion to pursue in life. He has turned “The Wave” into a musical, which he feels can express the lessons of that time better than plane words, writing both the music and the lyric. He speaks at Holocaust memorials and has developed a special relationship with Eva Moses Kor, an “Auschwitz twin”.
Ron fondly remembers his Jewish Grandmother, his Mother’s Mom, who used to tell him stories around the dinner table. Many of those stories came alive for him on his first trip to Israel, this past March. When asked if he thought that the values he holds dearest are a result of how he was raised, he acknowledges that it must be true. Ron’s grandparents, parents, he and his wife and now one of his children, have all invited into their homes those in need and made them part of their extended family. Ron was raised with foster siblings and he and his wife raised two foster children. These youngsters were abused and would have ended up in prison if not for his family’s intervention and welcoming them into their home. “It must be a Jewish trait,” he says, smiling warmly at the thought that three generations have opened their hearts and homes to those who are less fortunate.
Ron was fired from his job as a teacher and could never get a job working in the public schools again. Interestingly, he was not fired for “The Wave experiment”, but for his anti- Vietnam War activities. When asked how he felt about losing his teaching position, Ron admits that at the time he was devastated, “all I ever wanted to be was a teacher”; however, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to him because it opened the door for him to becoming a writer, a coach, an activist for the mentally and physically challenged, as well as a world traveler who meets interesting and profound people.
Ron continues to maintain contact with many of his former students (many of whom staged a “sleep-in” overnight in the school cafeteria to protest the school’s firing of their beloved teacher). Ron encourages those who are interested in listening to the students who experienced “The Wave experiment” to watch the movie, “Lesson Plan” a Documentary about The Third Wave. This movie was produced by several of Ron’s students and expresses their feelings and reflections 40 years after participating in “The Wave”. They, along with Ron, premiered the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
When asked about ways to motivate our students, as well as being creative teachers, Ron speaks about many ideas; teachers being flexible, integrating the different subjects in the curriculum, exploring students’ strengths and recognizing the different learning styles of each of our students. He encourages teachers to take risks in their teaching, but not alone. “Teachers need the support of one another and also to communicate their ideas to their principals, so no one is surprised by an activity that may be creative or bold.” He also discusses the importance of bringing music and art into the classroom as well as exposing our young people to the everyday heroes in our lives, whom they may not be aware are in our midst. “Sometimes you have to travel, get out of the classroom, to learn a lesson; maybe volunteer in a hospital or visit a prison, for real learning to take place.” Most fundamentally, Ron emphasizes the importance of the need for young people to be around people who are passionate and in love with something. “Teachers should do more of what excites them because that is what will inspire their students to find their passion and make a real difference in their lives and in the lives of others.”
- Ron Jones site : http://www.ronjoneswriter.com/
- Eva Moses Kor- candles project: http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/
- “Lesson Plan”- Documentary on The Third Wave Experiment: http://www.lessonplanmovie.com/
- Bridging ideas for The Wave https://englishteachingwithcreativity.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/the-wave-bridging-ideas-for-logs-or-tests