At the top of this episode, Shawn and Cory decide that Feeny’s job is so easy that even a kid could do it. Meanwhile, Mr. Feeny introduces that week’s lesson: Prejudice. The class will be covering Black slavery in the American South, The Holocaust, and several other issues concerning prejudice. ALL OF THIS IN ONE WEEK, FEENY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
He sends this kids home with the first thirty pages of Anne Frank’s diary, but pulls Cory aside at the last minute to scold him for acting up in class. Cory and Feeny argue that it’s easier to be in the other one’s shoes, so they decide to swap places for the week. Cory will teach his class while Feeny sits in front of Shawn and acts up. To make it interesting, Cory bets his new bike and Feeny bets 20% of his weekly paycheck. If more kids do well on the test than usual, then Cory wins. Cory thinks it will be a breeze because: “The book does all the teaching. Feeny’s just Vanna White pointing at the letters.”
At school the next day, Cory tells all of the kids in class that they can wear their baseball caps and should refer to him as “Hey Dude.” That’s my kind of teaching! Topanga requests that Cory waive the entire dress code so that she can be more free to culturally appropriate and wear a sari to school. Cory agrees.
Back at Cory’s house, Morgan cramps Eric’s style with his new girlfriend Linda because she’s really nice and Morgan wants to be her new BFF. But I think this really works out for Eric because Morgan seems so endearing and it makes Eric look like a family man. The next day, Linda sends Eric home with a Japanese lantern for Morgan.
As Cory’s first day of teaching comes to a close, his father (who is very concerned about the new bike he just paid for) inquires about the details of Feeny’s grading. In the course of their conversation, Cory reveals that Feeny is going to take the test since he’s a student this week. Alan explains that Feeny will get the highest score, thus breaking the curve, and will win the bet.
Cory is STRESSED when he returns to class the next day. Topanga decides to sit on a yoga cushion instead of at her desk. She’s wear a sari, as promised, and there’s a whole joke about how “scary she is when she meditates. (For an episode that is all about everyday racism, this whole bit is a sour note.) Minkus decides to goof off for once in his life. And Mr. Feeny shows up wearing a Phillies jersey just in time for Shawn to deal him into poker. Suffice it to say, Cory isn’t able to get any teaching done and is bike is effectively toast.
When he arrives home from school, he agonizes over how to get through to the class. As Cory is trying to figure out a game plan, Eric arrive home with a sobbing Linda. Someone at the mall called her a racial slur. Cory, a white boy from suburban Philadelphia, is fully shocked that prejudice still exists in the modern world of 1993.
The next day at school, Cory goes fully Feeny and wears a suit. (Feeny wears a Meat Loaf sweatshirt.) Even though everyone is goofing off, Cory proceeds on with his lecture: “Class, I’d like to talk to you today about prejudice and how it still exists in today’s world. I didn’t even know that until last night when I saw a real smart totally cool Asian girl crying her eyes out because some idiot at the mall called her a bad name. My lesson for today is that when people treat other people badly because of their skin color, or their religion, or where they come from, then real smart totally cool people can really suffer.”
No one listens to him. Cory is totally dejected and is about to walk out of the classroom (and away from his proverbial bike) when Feeny gives him a meaningful look. Corey turns back around and asks Shawn what his mother’s maiden name is. Then he uses a slur for Italian people. When Shawn is just about to deck him (Feeny is allowing all of this to happen for “education purposes”) Cory points out that not everyone has the luxury of being able to stand up for themselves. (Cory doesn’t say this here but if you were listening to his lecture earlier it’s obvious that his larger point is that they shouldn’t even have to.) Cory concludes the class by reading the most famous quote from Anne’s diary.
The next day, Feeny reveals that the exact same number of students passed, so the bet is a draw. Cory keeps his bike and Feeny keeps his full paycheck. Cory is disappointed and feels like he wasn’t a good teacher. (Turns out it’s a lot harder than it looks.) But Feeny lifts his spirits by revealing that Shawn scored a letter grade higher than he usually does. He got a B! Feeny also reveals that Cory learned something as well. Oh Lord, this brought me to tears multiple times. This episode is AMAZING.
Okay, this episode is especially cute in the context of Girl Meets World where Cory really does grow up to be a teacher. It totally works. I love it.
Something that I think is particularly great about this episode is that it doesn’t stop at raising awareness. Part of this, yes, is Cory becoming aware of the fact that racism exists in his world — something he has never personally experienced as a white child in an upper-middle class bubble. But Cory quickly realizes that raising awareness to this issue through his lecture didn’t really get anyone’s attention. So he quickly moves on to a different approach: he provokes Shawn.
Shawn is a safe person to try this with. If he’s going to punch Cory, there will at least be a bit of a lead up to it (and hopefully time to de-escalate). And with this lead-time, Cory starts a conversation. It’s an inflammatory conversation, but it’s with someone who he knows will continue to listen even if things get tense because Cory has that kind of relationship with Shawn. Cory then uses a series of very pointed questions that provoke Shawn. He questions him on what he would do in this hypothetical situation and then remind him that he doesn’t have the power to actually do anything.
When Cory confronts Shawn in front of the class, it’s like he’s doing his own mini blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment where he, Cory, is the powerful blue-eyed boy while Shawn (the proverbial brown-eyed) can’t do anything to better his station in the classroom. Our budding activist wraps the class up with a call to action. He reminds everyone that it isn’t enough for the people who are suffering to stand up for themselves, but rather that the people in power must stand up for them too. It’s not a very great call to action because it’s pretty vague and evidently left a lot of kids still missing the point. But he’s only eleven, so we’ll give him points anyway. And hey, Shawn got a B on the final assignment, which really is saying something.
Is there some kind of campaign I can get behind to show this episode of Boy Meets World in every classroom in America? And also maybe every church and every office space? I know a lot of adults who could really benefit from this clip:
This episode may have aired in 1993 but it certainly feels like it could be describing life in 2021.