In 1967, at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, a history teacher by the name of Ron Jones conducted a social experiment that became known as "The Third Wave". I had not heard about this experiment until a couple of days ago, when I saw the documentary entitled "Lesson Plan" on PBS. It was fascinating. During the experiment, Jones told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy. Jones felt that democracy emphasizes individuality and therefore was a drawback to society as a whole. He emphasized this by coining the motto: "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride" and he had his students chant this over and over until they were indoctrinated.
The Stormy Sea
The experiment began as an exercise in discipline, with the students being told to sit up straight, behave in an orderly fashion, and address the teacher as "Mr. Jones". He made up a salute, and students were ordered to salute each other even outside of class. Everyone complied. And then a strange thing happened; the experiment took on a life of its own, and students who were not in the class wanted to join. His classroom went from 30 students to 200, with standing room only. The students were issued a membership card, and some of the students elected themselves to be "police" or "informers". Mr. Jones was amazed to find that some of the students started reporting to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules. Anyone who broke the rules, or spoke up and said, "This is wrong", were immediately banished to the library, and were shunned by their fellow classmates.
La falaise d'Étretat
By the fourth day of the experiment, Mr. Jones was alarmed at how the students had become immersed in the experiment, and rather than thinking as individuals, they were thinking and acting only according to the rules of the community, with loyalty only to the group ~~ complete with discipline, a membership card and a salute. Individuality disappeared. But the really frightening thing was how many people wanted to join the group, and fights were breaking out all over the campus when folks disagreed with each other, so Mr. Jones terminated the experiment. However, even today, when the students are interviewed, they remember the feelings they had of joining the group, and then being afraid to be individuals. They were merely part of the whole, and once they were part of the whole, they were terrified of taking a wrong step and being banished. Folks would say and do things they no longer believed, just to remain part of the group.
Beach in Normandy
A year after the experiment, Mr. Jones was terminated from his employment, and he never taught again. But his experiment was successful in proving how peer pressure can be very similar to Nazi Germany, and that was the point of his experiment. The definition of peer pressure is: the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms. Social groups affected include membership groups, when the individual is "formally" a member (for example, political party, trade union), or a social clique. A person affected by peer pressure may or may not want to belong to these groups. They may also recognize dissociative groups with which they would not wish to associate, and thus they behave adversely concerning that group's behaviors.
Mr. Jones' experiment proved to be more enlightening than he first imagined. It also proved that perfectly normal, reasonable people can get caught up in this mindset, and since we are all human, it can happen to any one of us, at any time. The thing is to recognize it for what it is and to try to avoid it. It's not always easy, though.