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Friday, September 27, 2013

Mr. Feeny Meets World

Before I launch into today's blog entry, I am going to state that I am really astonished that I have never done an entry on this television show before. It surprises me because I remember watching this show as a pre-teen and teenager. It certainly was a show that could be considered part sitcom/part coming of age drama. The show certainly had its funny moments where you would be rolling around on the floor in hysterics...but it also had some real tragedy and drama mixed into it. It was a sitcom that dealt with topics that no other sitcom really ever tackled and for the main characters of the program, they ended up going through some really serious issues that helped them grow into better adults.

Certainly, that was the case with the star of the show. In the show we saw him mature from a bratty and sarcastic twelve year old boy into a mature and responsible married twentysomething year old man. We watched him survive sixth grade, high school, and the first few years of college along with his older brother, younger siblings, best friend, and girlfriend (who later became wife). The road to success was not always easy for this person, but he had a really good support system that really kept him on the straight and narrow.

But would you believe that his biggest influence was not from a peer or a parent, but from a person who was there for him every step of the way as an educator?

How many of you have actually had the same teacher twice? Think about it for a second. Most of us have had the same teacher for a semester or a year (depending on whether you're in grade school or secondary school), but as soon as that year was up, you probably said your goodbyes and never looked back. I know that in my years of school, having the same teacher was a rarity. In my elementary school, I never had the same teacher twice. In high school, having the same teacher was always a possibility (one that happened at least twice or thrice), but it wasn't always guaranteed.

Now, imagine having the same person for your sixth grade teacher, your high school principal, your college professor - and as revealed in one episode of this series, your kindergarten teacher! And to top it off, this person also happens to live right next door from your house! How would you feel about that?

Well, for Cory Matthews, Eric Matthews, Topanga Lawrence, and Shawn Hunter, the odds were definitely stacked in their favour, as all four of these people had this situation happen to them. And luckily enough, their experience with this man was one hundred per cent positive. By the end of the series, the bond that these four young people shared with this man was absolutely unbreakable. As far as I'm concerned, this man could very well be nominated as “Best Sitcom Teacher Ever”...and win!

The television show was the long-running ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World”, which ran for seven seasons between September 24, 1993 and May 5, 2000. And, the teacher in question is...well...let's let Eric Matthews introduce him to us.

Today's blog subject will focus on the fictional educator known as Mr. George Feeny, played memorably by the voice of “Knight Rider”'s KITT, William Daniels.

And let's put it out there. He was there every step of the way for Cory (Ben Savage), Topanga (Danielle Fishel), Shawn (Rider Strong), and Eric (Will Friedle)...even more so than their parents, if you can believe it!

Of course, at first glance, you might not have believed that Mr. Feeny would have become anyone's favourite teacher. If anything, when I first started watching this show as a twelve year old boy, I was one who initially didn't care for Mr. Feeny's teaching style. He piled on the homework, he was very strict when it came to how his students should behave in class, and he always called his students by their last name instead of their first. And if there was ANYTHING I hated more in school, it was when my teacher would call me by my last name.

Well, except for that one year where there were six Matthews in my class...then and only then did it become acceptable.

Of course, that's not to say that Mr. Feeny didn't try to make his students appreciate a love of learning. He tried his best to get through to Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Stuart Minkus (Lee Norris). Of course, Cory and Shawn were never really interested in completing homework assignments and science projects. They were more interested in playing sports, video games, and generally goofing off. I can imagine that it must have been very frustrating for any teacher to have to deal with students who are self-admitted slackers.

The thing is that Mr. Feeny never really did lose his temper with his students. He never called them out in class, or kicked them out of the classroom, or threatened to throw a blackboard eraser or textbook at them.

(You laugh at that last part, but I actually had a teacher who made that threat to another student in my classroom.)

In fact, the only time that I ever really saw Mr. Feeny lose his temper on the show was when he was PROTECTING his students. To Mr. Feeny, education was his life, and he spent several decades teaching his many students reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Oh, but those were just the lessons needed to pass from grade to grade. As far as life lessons, he taught his students more...way more than what was expected of any teacher.

I mean, if you want a perfect example of what I mean, just take a look at the pilot episode of the series, which aired on September 24, 1993. As the episode begins, Mr. Feeny gives Cory a session of detention after he smuggled a portable radio into class to listen to a baseball game. But according to Cory, his defense was that Mr. Feeny was teaching the class about love and how important it is in their lives, and to Cory, he didn't see how love was all that wonderful. How could it be wonderful when his older brother decided to take his girlfriend to a baseball game instead of him? Of course, while serving detention, Mr. Feeny has a talk with Cory and convinces him not to treat Eric so harshly, and later on in the episode when Eric has a fight with his girlfriend, it is Cory who takes Feeny's words to heart and convinces Eric to give her another chance.

Of course, Mr. Feeny also happened to teach Cory lessons in responsibility. Mr. Feeny switched places with Cory during a teacher/student swap exercise where Cory learned that Mr. Feeny's job was not as easy as he initially thought. When Cory is depressed about making the school basketball team's B-squad, he initially feels as though his whole family is disappointed and skips out on the game. But after a talk with Mr. Feeny, not only is Cory's self-confidence restored, but he gets to play in the game after all! And later on in the series when Cory pushes a faculty member of the college who tried to hit on Topanga, and the faculty member threatens to kick him out of college, Mr. Feeny acts as Cory's lawyer in student court.

And I think that Mr. Feeny's approach with his students also helped them earn their respect as well. When Cory learned of a plan by some of the students in his high school that they were going to vandalize Mr. Feeny's house as retaliation for his tough exam schedule, Cory, Topanga, and Shawn all stood up to the crowd. They got there too late to prevent the crowd from making a mess out of the school's parking lot, but the three of them stayed behind to help Mr. Feeny clean it up.

I believe that Mr. Feeny was also quite touched at the level of compassion that Cory showed following the death of their beloved high school lunch lady. Cory came up with an idea for the whole school to pay their respects. After all, according to Cory, the lunch lady had nine hundred children who wanted nothing more than to pay their respects to her. And that's exactly what they did. I gotta admit, the last scene which showed all the students marching through the funeral parlor carrying lunch trays filled with roses that they were going to leave on top of the gets me every time.

Here's a list of some of the other things that Mr. Feeny did for Cory and his pals. When you tally everything up, you'll see why everyone thought that Mr. Feeny was a wonderful teacher and friend.

Let's see. Well, there was the time that Eric was rejected from getting into college and how his whole life spun out of control. He consistently tried everything possible to seek the easy way out, but Mr. Feeny knew that Eric had more in him than he even believed possible. With Mr. Feeny's guidance – in addition to Cory and Topanga's consistent badgering of him – Eric was convinced to take the PSAT's over again and give college another chance.

Shawn ended up getting involved in a cult while he was in high school as a result of him believing that he had a hard time fitting in anywhere. Despite Cory and Topanga trying to convince him not to join, Shawn finds the idea too tempting. But when one of his favourite teachers, Mr. Turner, gets critically injured in a motorcycle accident, and Shawn is left questioning everything he ever believed in, Mr. Feeny is among one of the first people who stands up for Shawn, and with his assistance, Shawn realizes that he has more people he can count on than ever before.

And, Mr. Feeny managed to find a way to reconcile the friendships and relationships of Cory and his pals by locking them in a classroom and tries to get them to write their feelings about each other on a sheet of paper. But when the friends spend more time bickering with each other leading to one of them storming out, Feeny is worried that he was too late. But amazingly, Mr. Feeny's plot to unite all of the friends works out, and Eric reads aloud his paper, which gets everyone else talking to each other again.

That sheet of paper read “Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself”. Very wise words.

And, I think that of all the people who supported Cory's relationship with Topanga the most, it was Mr. Feeny. Mr. Feeny gave both of them some wonderful advice over the years. Whether it was advice to Cory about treating Topanga with respect, or whether it was advice to Topanga over not letting things end on a sour note, I do believe that Mr. Feeny was a key factor in making sure that Cory and Topanga's relationship stayed strong, which inevitably lead up to their wedding towards the end of the series.

Even Mr. Feeny ended up finding love and romance himself, falling in love with the Dean of the college that he began teaching at! And, naturally, none were more supportive of his marriage than Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Eric.

So, naturally, when it came down to how the show was going to end, it was only fitting that the show would conclude in the same place where it all Cory's sixth grade classroom. You see, Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric were all heading off in their own separate directions, and they wanted to say goodbye to their teacher, mentor, and friend in their own way. So, reuniting at their old elementary school, the four ask Mr. Feeny for one final lesson to send them off. Below is that lesson.

Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.” I think I need to tattoo those words onto my person at some point in my life.

Of course, Mr. Feeny would never admit to his students that he had his favourites. And he would NEVER go against his own belief that the relationship between a student and teacher is a line that should never be crossed. So, his students could only express how they felt about him.

Topanga told Mr. Feeny that she would never forget him and that he was more of a father to her than her own father. Shawn told Mr. Feeny that he was the greatest man he ever knew and that he appreciated the fact that he never gave up on him. Although he would tell Mr. Feeny that he blamed him for it, Eric appreciated the fact that Mr. Feeny taught him how to be a good, caring person and that he would be that person forever.

And as for Cornelius “Cory” Matthews...well, the friendship between those two was the strongest of all. Cory told Mr. Feeny that regardless of where they were, or how old they got, that he would always be with them every step of the way.

And as the curtain closed on “Boy Meets World”, Mr. Feeny looks at the empty classroom, and silently admits the one thing that he refused to admit to his students.

I love you all. Class dismissed."

And so wraps up "Boy Meets World".  But what's really cool is that a sequel show entitled "Girl Meets World" is set to debut sometime in 2014, which sees Cory and Topanga's daughter entering the world of junior high school.  It's not confirmed whether Mr. Feeny will be a part of that television show...but wouldn't it be awesome if he was?

Here's hoping!

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