Episode: Teacher’s Bet (1×08)
Production Code: B610
Director: David Trainer
Teleplay: April Kelly
Main Cast: Ben Savage, William Daniels, William Russ, Betsy Randle, Will Friedle, Lee Norris, Rider Strong, Lily Nicksay
Guest Cast: Danielle Fishel, Lindsay Price
Original Air Date: November 19, 1993
In the cafeteria, Shawn brings over a newspaper article on “the $43 million dollar man,” Barry Bonds. Minkus, standing nearby, asks why he’s called that, and Shawn explains it’s because of his six-year contract for that much. Minkus figures out that it amounts to $7.16 million/yr. Well shoot, I know it’s a different sport from basketball and all, but Ersan Ilyasova is due for $7.9 mil this year. (Who? Exactly.) Bonds’ contract doesn’t seem like anything to me, relatively speaking. Cory points out that Bonds is a premier baseball player. Ah, the 90s were such an innocent time, when a boy could idolize a baseball player without the possibility of steroids crossing his mind! (I realize that Bonds has never actually been found guilty of doing so. I am accusing him of nothing.) Minkus observes that Mr. Feeny is a premier teacher, who makes only $40k/yr. This is pretty much on target for a Pennsylvania elementary teacher’s salary in 1993-94. For curiosity’s sake, I looked up what Mr. Feeny would be paid in the 2010s. Not bad, in my opinion. Apparently PA pays its teachers better than in some places, though. Anyway, Mr. Feeny’s salary is news to Shawn and Cory, and Shawn expresses his disapproval, as he thinks it’s too much money. Cory rhetorically asks Minkus if spelling and history ever change, and posits that Mr. Feeny doesn’t have to change because Sixth Grade is constant. To prove his point, Cory predicts that, within the next five seconds, Mr. Feeny would walk into the cafeteria, drink at the fountain, flick the water his mustache, walk to the coffee machine, and say, “Good morning, Mr. Matthews. I trust you’ve done the homework.” Mr. Feeny walks into the cafeteria and does each of these things. Cory replies that he did do the homework, and he and Mr. Feeny say in unison, “But my little sister ate it.” Mr. Feeny rolls his eyes at Cory’s predictable self.
Mr. Feeny announces that the social studies topic will be “prejudice,” prompting a wisecrack from Cory about being prejudiced against cafeteria food. Oh, Cory. It’s not being *pre*judiced if you are already well acquainted with the cafeteria food. Biased? Sure. As he passes out a book to the students, Mr. Feeny announces that they shall study American slavery, Nazi Germany, and other incidences of prejudice. Cory, unimpressed, complains that the book is about “some girl.” The class bell rings, and Mr. Feeny calls Cory up to his desk. Cory attempts to reassure his teacher that he’ll read the book, but Mr. Feeny is more exasperated that Cory’s making snarky comments toward his teaching more frequently. Cory says that they each know that teaching sixth grade is easy because it never changes, so he’s just trying to make it a bit more work. Mr. Feeny says that he thought Cory’s job was easier, because he just has to sit in class. Cory rants that he has to spend 35 hours a week with Mr. Feeny, and only gets “paid” $5/wk. for doing so. Cory muses that Mr. Feeny must make that much in an hour. Hey, that could be worse, considering that Pennsylvania’s minimum wage in 1993 was only $4.25. Ouch. Mr. Feeny, dripping with sarcasm, says that he does make more than $5/hr., which is how he can afford the Ferrari in his driveway… which is actually a Gremlin. Do all teachers drive AMC Gremlins or something? Mr. Feeny suggests that he and Cory switch roles for 1 class for the remainder of the week, with a Feeny-prepped exam at the week’s end. Should the passing rate be better than average, Cory wins the bet. Cory accepts the deal. Mr. Feeny suggests that they make the bet more interesting. The scene ends. I am in suspense. (Not really.)
Eric apparently has a new love interest, Linda. At the Matthews’ living room, he introduces her to Amy and Morgan. Morgan introduces herself and gives her age as 5 1/2. Linda says that she is 15 3/4. She asks Morgan to dish about Eric’s old girlfriends, and Morgan says there were loads of them, as Eric cringes. Linda says that she’s not his girlfriend, as it’s only a study session. Morgan isn’t convinced. Amy calls them all into the kitchen for ice cream.
Alan and Cory rush in through the seldom used french doors. Amy calls them out on racing home with their car and new bike, respectively. Amy wonders why Cory is home so early, since she expected him to be showing off his new bike to his classmates. Cory says he was just excited about the bet with Mr. Feeny, and was hurrying home to tell them about it. Amy points out Cory’s C+ in Social Studies, and asks if he’s capable of teaching it. Cory blows her off and says the book will do the teaching. He says, “Feeny’s just Vanna White, pointing to the letters.” Alan asks what the stakes are. If Mr. Feeny wins, he gets Cory’s new bike. If Cory wins, he gets 1/5 of Mr. Feeny’s paycheck for that week (5 classes per school day, and Cory’s teaching 1 class). Cory thinks he can’t lose, and runs off. Alan grabs Amy’s arm, suspiciously demanding to know why Mr. Feeny might want that bike. Amy says it’s just “one of those Mr. Feeny lesson things.” Alan rebuts, “What if the lesson is, “I want that bike!’?”
Prior to class starting, as Mr. Feeny sits in Cory’s seat, Cory reminds his teacher that he may run the class slightly differently. Cory walks to the front of the class and announces that he’ll be teaching for the rest of the week. Minkus nervously asks what is happening, and Mr. Feeny tells him to direct his questions to his teacher. Cory scrawls his name on the chalkboard: ‘HEY DUDE.” Cory states that the classroom is no longer a baseball cap-free zone. Topanga raises her hand to ask if caps are going to be kosher, then could the entire dress code be eliminated? Cory apprehensively asks if she was planning on showing up to class nude. She says no, even though she has no issue with nudity. Rather, she was thinking about wearing something from a culture that is in tune with the goddess, e.g. a sari or pareo. Cory says it’s okay as long as she’s covered.Minkus reminds them about social studies, and Shawn tells him to shut his face. Cory gives the homework assignment: Read the first 30 pages of the book assigned yesterday. Minkus points out that the assignment is redundant. Cory explains that since likely there were students who did not complete the homework, this way everyone gets a second chance to get it done. Cory, I know you’re being a short-sighted 11-year-old and all, but do you realize that by repeating assignments like this, it will take longer to get through this (boring, according to you) book?
Alan and Morgan are doing a puzzle at the Matthews’ kitchen table. Eric walks in with a Japanese lantern that Linda is giving to Morgan. Morgan leaves to try out the lantern in her bedroom, and Eric leaves to call Linda.
Cory walks in and pronounces himself the best teacher ever, as the class turned into a party. Alan asks what Mr. Feeny was doing, and Cory says Shawn was teaching him to play poker for gum. Please tell me it wasn’t ABC gum. That’s all I ask. Alan asks when classwork was done. Cory reminds him that he didn’t have to do anything, because if one reads the book, one passes the exam. Alan asks if he read the book. Cory says he skimmed. Alan asks what the book was about, and Cory says something about Nazis and Jews, “a long time ago. When there was prejudice and stuff.” Alan raises his eyebrow and repeats, “A long time ago.” Cory says that it’s all history now. Alan asks for the terms of the bet again. Cory replies that according to the way Mr. Feeny grades, if more students than average pass, Cory wins. Alan starts asking questions of blankly staring Cory, such as whether or not Mr. Feeny grades on a curve, especially since Mr. Feeny is likely to get a high score. Alan points out that if Mr. Feeny gets a high score, more students are likely to fail. Therefore, sayonara, new bike!
At school, Cory begs Shawn to help him regain classroom control. Shawn thinks Cory should chill out. Topanga, clad in a sari-ish thing, moves her desk to make room for her yoga cushion, and Minkus shoves his desk into the corner to make room for his pogo-ball thing. (I have no idea what these are called.)
Cory tries to call roll. Topanga responds that she’s “channeling.” and will only answer to… some growly, guttural sound.
Cory concludes that she is technically present but not all there. He calls Shawn’s name, who is too preoccupied with stacking his card deck to answer.
Cory then notices that “George” isn’t in class. “George” saunters in, chewing gum and wearing a Phillies jersey and oddly logoless cap. He says that he was “chillin’ with my homies,” and starts playing cards with Shawn.
Cory turns to Minkus and asks that he stop making “paper turkeys” and pay attention. Minkus takes offense regarding both their moniker (“flamingos,” he insists) and his own (demanding that Cory use his first name as he does with the other students). Cory takes a seat at the teacher’s desk and stares helplessly at the chaos.
Alan walks in from work to discover Cory, who is reading in the living room. Cory comments that teaching isn’t as easy as it appears to be, especially since the students were ignoring him. Alan speculates that it’s because he tried to be their buddy rather than the teacher. Cory asks how to be more authoritative. Alan asks him how Mr. Feeny does it. Cory shrugs and says he never paid attention. Alan lets that one ride (because it’s time for the b-plot, obviously), and goes upstairs.
B-plot Linda, teary-eyed, walks through the front door with Eric. Eric tries to shoo Cory away after he starts asking what’s wrong with Linda. Morgan and Amy enter through the french doors, and Morgan expresses her concern about Linda. Eric explains that a man called Linda a bad name when they were at the mall. Cory asks, “In our mall, right here?” in pretty much the same manner one would ask, “In this country?” Hmmm. Morgan empathizes with Linda, as a classmate had once called her “poo-poo head.” Amy herds Morgan into the kitchen to make cocoa. Eric disgustedly says that people can be idiots. Cory, still in shock, says, “This happened today?” Hmmm.
Cory walks into class the next day, where chaos is already in progress. Shawn compliments Cory on his GQ suit and tie. Cory pleads to Minkus that he pay attention in class today, so other students might follow suit. Minkus asks why he should, as Cory thinks Mr. Feeny is overpaid.
“George” walks in just as the bell is ringing, and disses Cory’s suit. Cory starts class and soberly announces that he’s going to talk about contemporary prejudice. As the chaos continues to ignore him, Cory recounts what happened to Linda at the mall, and how discrimination can harm others. “George” turns away from the card game, clearly intrigued. He asks Shawn, who is upset with him for trying to bet Rolaids in lieu of gum, to deal him out. Cory despondently announces his resignation, as he is a bad teacher, and walks toward the door. Meanwhile, I wonder where he is expecting to go without a hall pass. He then gets an idea.
He asks Shawn what his mother’s maiden name is. “Cordini,” he distractedly replies. Cory challenges, “That would make you a wop, right?” Shawn, incensed, asks “George” if he heard what Cory said. “George” says Mr. Matthews is the teacher, so it’s up to him to do something about it. Shawn threatens bodily harm and starts shoving Cory, who rhetorically asks what would happen if he had no recourse against someone who did that. He asks what he’d do if someone could end his life because of his mother’s maiden name. Shawn doesn’t get it, so Cory exclaims, “A 15-year-old girl is dead!”The class silently listens while Cory speechifies about Anne Frank’s coolness and writeryness and concentration camp fate. He says she was a victim of “anti-semite-ism.” Mr. Feeny corrects the pronunciation, and Cory thanks him. Cory exhorts his classmates to read the book, not because of him or the exam, but “because when someone call someone else a bad name, it’s not good that just that one person jumps up (referring to Shawn almost coming to blows with him over the slur). We all have to jump up.” He begins reading a short passage, wherein Frank expresses her optimism about the innate goodness of the human race.
On some unknown post-exam day, at the empty classroom, Cory asks Mr. Feeny how the students did. The same number of students passed as usual, so Cory gets to keep his bicycle. Cory’s in disbelief that some students failed. Mr. Feeny explains that some students fail, regardless of the quality of the teacher. Cory apologizes for not being a good teacher. Hey, he’s going to be a teacher on Girl Meets World, right? I honestly hope the show’s writers will make him a good teacher, especially since he seems to care about being one in this episode. Mr. Feeny says he taught well, and cites Shawn earning a letter grade higher than his average as evidence. Cory’s pleased that at least one student learned something. Mr. Feeny corrects him that it was two students, as Cory did as well. Cory asks how Mr. Feeny can know this, since he didn’t take the test. Mr. Feeny asks if he really would have read Anne Frank’s diary otherwise. Cory says that even if he had read it, he wouldn’t have comprehended it without Mr. Feeny’s help. He says people just don’t get teachers, prompting Mr. Feeny to bemoan the disrespect, the misbehaving students, and the low pay. He sighs heavily and offers Cory a Rolaid.
Eric walks into the living room and tells Amy that he’s going out with a cheerleader on Saturday. Amy’s upset, as she liked Linda. Eric explains that Linda just made the squad, and he was “smart enough to get in on the ground floor.” Amy says that she was a cheerleader in high school, and demonstrates a cheer that starts, “Bo-bo skedeeten dooten…” Eric calls it hopelessly dated, and says that contemporary cheerleader cheers are “cutting-edge.”
Linda rings the doorbell. Eric asks her to demonstrate a cheer. Gee, I wonder which she will choose! Linda says, “Bo-bo skedeeten dooten…” Eric calls it “cutting-edge.”
And the episode ends. Miraculously, nobody got sued or disciplined.
To me, the writer(s) made an interesting choice. The A-plot could have been written as follows: Cory gets a random new classmate or friend. Random new classmate/friend is called an ethnic slur by another classmate/bystander. Cory becomes righteously indignant on classmate/friend’s behalf. Cory learns something new about classmate/friend’s subculture. Cory preaches to his friends that they need to never be racist. Classmate/friend is never seen again. Cory has learned a Very Special Lesson about racism.
Instead, the writer(s) made the A-plot about something else entirely (which I’ll get to in a sec). 50% (the racism part) of the B-plot was woven in as a small component of the A-plot. Linda was introduced as Eric’s friend and love interest, and during her first scene, the dialogue was written as if it were any of Eric’s generic girlfriends. Off-screen, Linda sends Morgan a Japanese lantern Cory and Eric are indignant on Linda’s behalf after she is called some slur. Cory preaches to his friends about racism, briefly mentioning Linda, but with the overall message being about why Anne Frank is important. Linda’s last scene has nothing to with racism and everything to do with cheerleading. Linda is never seen again (but then, neither are Keri Russell and Nikki Cox). Shawn has learned a Very Special Lesson about racism… after his best friend and the show’s protagonist calls him a slur in front of his classmates. Cory has learned a Very Special Lesson about racism…but it is a sub-point of a larger lesson.
And in “Teacher’s Bet,” the racial discussion is present and using some Very Special Episode components. Unlike many VSEs, the racism is not the episode’s focal point. It’s also pretty interesting to me that the Racial Thing doesn’t really come up a lot during the show’s run. A black character, Angela Moore, was introduced in season 5, and although she would occasionally make comments about being surrounded by white people… that was about the extent of any mention of her ethnicity. It makes me wonder if the writers (who mostly been replaced by the time season 5 rolled around) made a conscious decision to downplay this sort of discussion, or if it just happened naturally, or if there were network mandates, or what. I definitely see pros and cons with any of these possibilities. I appreciate, though, that Linda’s subplot does not get a pat ending. She’s hurt and offended. She has a good cry. Then she moves on with her life (which consists of Saturday night dating and cheerleading, in her case). For better or for worse…that’s realistic to me.
As for the A-plot, it would never, ever work in real life. Mr. Feeny wouldn’t have a job to complain about, after pulling a stunt like that. That said, he’s totally right that often, you learn a lesson better if you’re the one having to teach the material. Or at least, this is the case, in my experience. I wonder if the students pushed the limits on Monday morning after the bet was concluded, trying to see if Mr. Feeny would permit them to still be rowdy. I think… yes. They must’ve. They’re sixth graders, after all.
Wait, that was who?!/I know them from ________.
Lindsay Price has been consistently acting since she was a child. I have seen her in absolutely nothing besides this show. (I am not counting I Love the 80’s Strikes Back.) As far as I can gather, her most significant roles were on All My Children and Beverly Hills, 90210.
Continuity (or lack thereof)
Eric’s got a new love interest, Linda. Morgan is 5 1/2. Unnamed Mrs. [Virna, presumably] Hunter’s maiden name is “Cordini.” I don’t remember if the school’s name had come up before now, but Linda’s cheer was for “Adams High.”
The wisdom (and snark) of Mr. Feeny
“Mi clase es su clase.”