The Third Wave Experiment is a lesson in indoctrination and should be a reminder of what happens when people blindly follow. Everyone should do their research and know what they are getting into.
The famous Third Wave Experiment might help explain your feelings about some current events and media. It was 1967, and a high school teacher named Ron Jones tried an experiment to explain the Nazi’s rise to power during WW2 to his students. The students wondered how an entire country could become cruel and evil. After all, aren’t people naturally good, caring, and selfless?
The Third Wave Experiment
The teacher did an unofficial experiment to show them just how easy it is for anyone to become like the Nazis.
He created a group in his class called the “Third Wave,” with rules, symbols, community, etc. (things not inherently bad). However, an atmosphere arose in which the Third Wave quickly took on several negative traits.
Within days (that is days, not weeks!), the group grew to over 200 students! These students did not hesitate to ostracize, ridicule, and bully other students. They would label critics as traitors as totalitarianism took over.
By the fifth day, Jones had ended the experiment after leading all the students into the auditorium with the promise of a major event. This is where the teacher broke the news to them that what they had been doing was not real. It took time for the initial shock to wear off.
The Standford Experiment Was Worse
The Stanford Prison Experiment was very similar and had to be shut down after seven days because of the abuse it was inflicting upon those involved in the experiment.
One student from the Stanford Prison Experiment said the harm caused by the worst guard (“John Wayne“) still harms him (in the present tense). He stated he knew ‘John’ was a ‘nice guy’ but “I know what you can turn into.”
This should all lead us to ask, “Why would I be any different?” These were people, and since you and I are also people, we are subject to the same temptations and pressures. What is stopping you from turning into ‘John’ or a Third Wave student, or worse?
We Should Learn from History
I’m not trying to be wholly negative here. I am trying to bring to light some important historical experiments and lessons about the human condition. After all, this is important if we want to avoid the hypocrisy of becoming the very oppressors and evil doers we condemn.
I have two brief closing thoughts.
Know The Problem
The first is being aware of the problem. Third Wave, students were much more conscious of the human condition after the experiment than they were before. Learn from them.
Be Careful Who You Follow
Second, in the words of one student, “Be careful who you follow because you never know where they will lead you.” Who or what are you following?
Tim Keller gives some incredible words here regarding following Jesus and where it leads: “[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.”
Dr. Ben Shaw is the President of Core Apologetics. He has authored or co-authored over two dozen publications, along with multiple presentations at conferences and universities (UVA, etc.). He has a book coming up in 2024 with InterVarsity Press called “Trustworthy: Thirteen Arguments for the Reliability of the New Testament.” In addition to his academic work, he has also obtained a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.