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Tom Tangney

The controversy of the Lesson Plan

 

One of the most discussed and controversial films at SIFF this year has been a movie about a social experiment inside a classroom. The documentary, Lesson Plan, raises all sorts of interesting ethical questions about the role of teachers.

“He had done experiments with us before but none of them had the twist that this one had. This one was memorable from start to finish and was a milestone in many of our lives.” Mark Hancock

Imagine you’re a high school sophomore in a contemporary history class and your teacher is a very charismatic young man, the most popular teacher in the school.

One day, six months into the school year, this teacher, Ron Jones, writes on the blackboard STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE and has you all repeat it over and over in unison. He has you all sit up straight and at attention. He then puts you all through a series of physical drills. You all get better and better at the drills.

The next day Mr Jones writes on the blackboard STRENGTH THROUGH COMMUNITY. He explains that you are more powerful as a group than as individuals and announces that your grade will be a shared grade with the rest of the class. You will be judged from now on as a group and he dubs you the Third Wave.

Here are your rules. You are to never speak disparagingly of this class whether in class, on campus or even when home. You are also not allowed to get together with more than one fellow classmate at a time.

And finally, you must all salute each other (with a cupped hand) whenever you pass anyone from the class – in school or out of school.

Mr Jones then passes out identity cards – three of which have red x’s on them. He announces that those anonymous three x’s are now the designated spies of the class and it is their job to report on any student who doesn’t follow the rules. If any student objects to what Mr Jones is doing, he or she is banished to the library for the rest of the quarter.

“We learned from [classmate] Sherry being thrown out that first day
or two if anybody spoke up in any sort of individual method, if they thought for themselves, they were gone. So you didn’t dare do it.” Mark Hancock

Posters promoting the Third Wave start showing up on school walls. And more than just the 3 designated spies start reporting violators. More and more rule breakers are put on trial.

“When my best friend turned me in – I had said something against the Party – and the teacher had me stand up in class but he didn’t really discipline me and then he kept me after class and said “I like your spirit. I want you to give me other names of other people not following the rules.” Philip Neel

This goes on for more than a week, with some students acting as pushy bodyguards for Mr Jones. Other students start feeling more and more paranoid about where this is all going. Tensions are high and getting higher when all the students assemble for a big announcement about a new leader for the Third Wave.

And in that darkened room, a TV screen flickers on and the students suddenly see grainy images of Adolph Hitler addressing a Nazi Rally.

Some students gasp, some start crying, others storm out.

It becomes a huge controversy and eventually the School Board fires the teacher. Ron Jones never teaches again.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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