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Study Guide: The Wave by Todd Strasser - BookNotes

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The next day, the students of Ben Ross' History class are surprised to see the slogan STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE written on the board. They did not expect a lecture about discipline from him, unlike other, more conventional teachers. Ross gets his students excited by showing how power and success is possible through discipline: using Amy as a model, he shows how this can be achieved in the proper posture and efficient organization - in how one sits, walks, and moves. He drills students, having them walk around and then get to their seats in a quick, orderly fashion. David proposes to the class that they line up in order to reach their seats faster from their standing positions. The class cheers at their success when this suggestion works.

Mr. Ross then gives three more rules to his students: one, all students must have pencils and paper for note-taking; two, they must stand at the side of their seat to answer any questions; three, all answers and questions must begin with the address "Mr. Ross". He then drills his student in these rules, asking them history questions. When the bell rings, the students wait for final orders from Mr. Ross instead of leaving on their own volition.

After class, several students congregate to discuss how they enjoyed the experience. David especially believes in the power behind this discipline, though Brad and some others were skeptical. David goes to the boys' rest room and sees Robert Billings going over the drills from class on his own.

That night, Christy Ross is surprised at hearing how well Ben's students took to discipline. She asks if it will continue the next day and Ben thinks it won't, as he plans to move on to the Japanese campaign. What Ben doesn't admit to his wife is how much he enjoyed the experience, as well.


Ben Ross begins his experiment with a slogan and three rules, supposedly derived from the slogan's premise. However, the broadness of the slogan makes these rules arbitrary under closer analysis. Any rule that imposes more control over the students and their behavior could just as easily have been applied, and other slogans could be used as easily to justify the rules chosen. Also note that Ben tells Christy he's ready to move on with new lessons the next day - his experiment had run its initial course, supposedly. However, this is contradicted by the fact that his students haven't truly learned the point of his exercise in discipline: that it shows how easily people can be indoctrinated, as they supposedly were in pre-World War II Germany. Whether or not he is lying to just her or to himself as well is unclear.



Arriving late for class the next day, Ben Ross is surprised to find his students observing the same disciplined posture and silence from the drills. Mr. Ross decides to take it further and introduces a second slogan to the class, STRENGTH THROUGH COMMUNITY. He explains this slogan as the importance of being part of something bigger than oneself. He also creates a symbol, a wave, and a matching salute by which the class should greet one another. He drills the student over this new information and instructions.

During football practice after school, Eric is skeptical of David wanting to introduce the entire team to The Wave. However, Brian Ammon is scared of facing Clarkstown's massive linebackers and is willing to give it a try. Deutsch, the junior who is second-string quarterback, taunts his rivals and offers to take Brian's place in the game, leading to a fight between these rivals. David breaks up the fight and sees it as proof they're not working as a team. At Eric's prodding, he tells the other players about The Wave.


The Wave already begins to take on its own power, as Ben Ross finds the first slogan still on the board and the students still showing rigorous discipline. As leader, he did not ask for this - however, seeing these things in effect, he decides to feed The Wave further with a new slogan and rules. Also, observe how Eric and David switch roles in this scene as skeptic and believer in The Wave. David first wants to introduce The Wave to the football team, with Eric doubting; but when it's time to do exactly that, David is unsure and must be prodded by Eric to do so. This shows David's ambivalence towards The Wave, as well as Eric's desire for a straightforward solution to the knotty problem of team disunity.



Over dinner, Laurie grows bored with her father's usual golf stories and tells her parents about history class. Laurie's mother, Midge Saunders, is concerned about The Wave being too militaristic, but Laurie assures her it's a positive experience. Mr. Saunders thinks any increase in discipline and cooperation is an improvement. He brings up the Founding Fathers as an example, while Mrs. Saunders counters that people should not be afraid to act as individuals. Mrs. Saunders then goes on to remind Laurie that what's popular isn't always what's right. Mr. Saunders asks about David, who often drops by in the evening. Laurie tells him David is studying history for tomorrow.

Though it's Ben's turn to cook, he brings home Chinese take-out because he's too busy preparing for his class. Ben is amazed at how well the students have taken to The Wave and how much better they behave. Christy asks him how far he's going to take the experiment and Ben answers that he doesn't know, admitting that he's also getting caught up in the process, describing it as "contagious". Christy jokingly warns her husband that it may be himself who's the guinea pig of the experiment.


Laurie's parents play out the arguments for and against The Wave, casually expanding it to the larger issues of individualism versus community values. Because they are older, they also bring a wider range of experience and knowledge to the debate, as seen by the references to the workplace and Founding Fathers, as well as Midge Saunders' later comparison to cults. The sharing of chores in the Ross household shows how progressive they are as a couple, as this was not as common at that time as it is today. Christy's warning to Ben shows her awareness of the negative impact that Ben's monomania can have, especially in this particular case.

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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on The Wave". . 09 May 2017