Whilst Ron Jones' The Third Wave has received a lot of attention and been dramatised, George Muldoon's experiments in capitalist democracy involving two groups of seventh graders in Mill Valley, California have seemingly slipped under the political radar...
"I said years and years and years ago that the public school system is like a microcosm for the United States, all of its goods and its bads and its smelly politicians and corruptness can be found in the school system with teachers, administrators and their damn passing the buck from one thing to another."
- George Muldoon, 7th grade social studies teacher.
In June 1978 George Muldoon, having just six months previously re-structured his class so that it was in line with how the Unites States was governed, was forced to intervene and resume complete control. It's worth quoting a report from The Milwaukee Journal, 3rd June here in full:
Corruption was downfall of 7th grade govenment
Mill Valley, Calif. – AP - An experiment in self-government by a seventh grade class has ended in scandal with the teacher assuming dictatorial powers over a make believe government riddled with real corruption.
“I thought, ‘My God, we’ve got another Watergate!’” said teacher George Muldoon after he took power of “Amasudatamalie” government in Mill Valley Middle School class. Muldoon seized power after a recent meeting when all but four of the 27 students confessed to “crimes” under laws they established when their country was formed in January.
Back then Muldoon recalled, “they thought I was too strict. I said ‘Okay, fine, you set up some rules and live by them.’” The students set up a capitalist democracy. They printed money, with a picture of a baby on $1 bills, a hippie on 10s and a skull on 100s. Class members had to pay Amasudatamalie dollars to use the pencil sharpener, books, wastebasket or door. Top bidders won the right to operate the “concessions” and reap the revenues from them.
But within weeks the system began to crumble. The Department of Beautification – the Orwellian name chosen for the police force – issued a rash of citations for such crimes as sitting on desks and messing up the room. “Some never got arrested though,” one student observed. “People with money had more power than the president.” Muldoon said class police eventually fingerprinted the whole class, kept dossiers on them “and me” and began accepting payoffs not to issue tickets. The bank was also knee deep in scandal, with the president using bank funds to pay other students to do her work. They, in turn, stole from the coffers.
But the crime that eventually brought Amasudatamalie’s downfall was counterfeiting, Muldoon said. The chief culprit admitted that he used a duplicating machine to reproduce more than $300,000. The racket became so good that he “retired” from his job as head of the health apartment and enticed six other students to join the ring. When the police said they would fine the crew for loafing around on their desks, “We’d just flip them $100 and tell them to forget it”, one counterfeit said.
Finally, Muldoon pulled a coup. “I said ‘Okay is falling apart. The police are running amuck. Your treasury is broke. Now you’re going to be run by a dictatorship.’ And I took over.” But that’s not the end of the story. Now, Muldoon said, students want to try their hands at a socialist state.
The Ruling Classroom (1979), below, documents Muldoon's repeat experiment in which a second class of seventh grade students were granted a greater degree of autonomy and were to establish their own country with its own rules. Peter Bull and Alex Gibney recorded the proceedings using a verité approach paired with after-school interviews with students. As the semester progresses the imaginary society, like the one they would soon inherit, develops serious problems such as freedom of the press, white collar crime, economic monopolies, and unemployment. The tape was aired nationally on PBS and evoked local controversy when the school’s principal called off the experiment after the video team uncovered a story about a teacher slapping a student. He then unsuccessfully tried to prevent the tape’s further release.
Produced and Edited by:
Peter Bull and Alex Gibney
Alex Gibney and Sonia Rosario
Video Transitions, Inc.
Thanks are given to Mrs. Ludlow Bull, Manny Farber, Sherman George, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Harriet Harvey, Bill Jennings, Mark McCarty, Hali Paul, Jim Smith