Monday, 11 July 2016

Lesson Plan (2010)

I mentioned this documentary in my recent review of The Wave.  Watching that film prompted me to track this down on Google Play, because I was interested to learn more about the real life event and to see if it could answer that niggling little voice in the back of my mind that was asking "did it really happen?".

Lesson Plan does a pretty sound job of answering that question.  It is comprised almost entirely of interview footage.  There's no omniscient narrator explaining the 'official' version of events: just people who were there recounting their own recollections and experiences.  There are a number of discrepancies and differences between the accounts, but when people are recalling forty year old memories, that is only to be expected.  I'd be a lot more suspicious if everyone was reciting the same chapter and verse.

The interviewees include Ron Jones (the teacher who started the experiment), the then-principal of the school, and several of the students who were involved.  The students in particular have differing memories of the Third Wave, and the range of responses and attitudes expressed - without anyone disputing the basic fact that it happened - does a lot to make the whole thing seem more real.

Differences of opinion aside - and those differences are significant, with some participants being very grateful for the experience and others calling it profoundly unjust - there is basic agreement that the experiment ran for four days; that it involved various autocratic techniques such as the establishment of a salute (pictured in the image above) with which members would have to greet each other, or the sudden expulsion of certain members for 'crimes against the movement'; and that on the last day, Jones ended it in a manner which to me suggests he was more interested in creating a dramatic conclusion than in ending it in the quickest and safest way possible.  Perhaps he already had an inkling that the experiment would mean the end of his teaching career and that having a marketable story might be something he needed.

My concerns about Jones's means of ending the experiment aside, this is an interesting documentary, which does a good job of showing how he adapted the techniques of totalitarian political movements to the classroom, and how those techniques could make true believers of some and stifle the dissent of others.

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