VFF: Lesson Plan: The Story of the Third Wave
Lesson 1: Strength Through Discipline. So starts Ron Jones’ Palo Alto, California high school history class on a Monday in 1967. What his students did not know is that they were embarking on an experiential learning event designed to answer the question “how did the German people ‘allow’ the Nazi regime to take power and commit the atrocities it did?”
Lesson Plan details the events of the next five days as this experiment takes on a momentum that ends on Friday with over 200 students sitting at attention at a rally in an auditorium awaiting an announcement from the (fictitious) leader of a third political party, The Third Wave, that intends to sweep to power in Washington propelled by the ferociously held tenets of its (again fictitious) thousands of young zealots, tenets that these 200 are screaming in unison:
Strength Through Discipline!
Strength Through Community!
Strength Through Action!
Told entirely through interviews with the students and faculty involved at the time The Lesson has very little production value and even less razzle dazzle. It doesn’t need it. I found myself riveted by the recollections of the participants. In stories that also fascinate for what they reveal about the untrustworthiness and self-protecting quality of memory, the students, adults and Mr. Jones himself paint a picture that clearly still disturbs them to look at. If you watch their eyes you can see them transported back to a week where the seductive charisma of fascism is all too apparent. Within five days of inception a charismatic teacher with a blackboard had a microcosm of totalitarianism flourishing, complete with violence, informers, police, a ghettoized population and rule through fear; it was an experiment ready to go viral if he had not, a little reluctantly he admits, pulled the plug.
If you have truly never looked at some of the blackest moments in human history and wondered “how did they allow it, could it happen here and what would I be capable of” then perhaps this movie is not for you, but if you want to peer at the heart of darkness from a safe distance then I suggest seeking this movie out . . . but maybe not for a first date.
Lesson Plan warns us in the words of one its interviewees “there may be strength through discipline, but to what end?” Even more chillingly, why do we so rarely care?