This is another episode with a “hey isn’t this relevant” connection to a piece of classic literature I’ve sadly never read.
Amy is impressed with Cory not only reading “The Grapes of Wrath”, but he’s even almost done with the book! Except not really, because Cory’s reading the book backwards, so he knows what happens so the beginning makes sense. Not a bad strategy for assigned school reading.
Meanwhile, Eric is doing all these errands for Desiree – that super cute southern belle we met in the last episode (and I mean it, she is GORGEOUS, but not in like a super model way – it’s hard to explain.) Amy thinks the whole situation is ridiculous and Eric needs to take control of his life. But he loves Desiree, maybe, and also he has a pager. Remember when pagers were a thing? Actually the only time I’ve seen pagers is on tv, and the character either has it because they have a demanding girlfriend, they’re about to have a baby, or they’re a doctor. Oh, and in one case the character was basically a prostitute and… had a pager because he was a… call-boy? I don’t know.
In Turner’s class, they’re discussing Grapes of Wrath. Topanga is not in the classroom, despite her saying in the first episode of this season that she has that same class with Cory and Shawn. But I think the girl sitting in front of Cory is the same one who was there last episode. So that’s something.
Cory surprises everyone, and disappoints Shawn, by giving a thoughtful analysis of the conclusion of the book. Turner continues the discussion and says something about worker’s rights in the 1930s. Cory asks if they’ll need to know dates for the test. Turner explains that the dates aren’t important, it’s the historical context that matters. Shawn then asks what page the historical context is on.
Turner tells them that the test isn’t important. He wants them to absorb the book, for its historical and literary importance, and all that jazz, and just forget the test. Cory then asks “Uh, when is the test?” Before Turner can strangle him, Cory also asks if there’s going to be an essay on the “written thing that lets our parents know we’re idiots.” Turner does all but throw his hands up in the air, and says that as long as they read the book, understand the book, and contribute during the class discussion, they aren’t going to have a test.
Feeny does not approve. Turner says that as long as the kids prove they know the material, he doesn’t need to test them. Feeny challenges him by asking how can he be sure the kids know the material without a test? Oy, arguments like this never cease being relevant, do they? They say nowadays that standardized testing is really awful for… whatever… brain thinky things we do, and that kids do better without homework, and whatever. In my opinion, if I didn’t have any tests to study for, I would never have bothered reading the books for classes – actually even when I have tests on books, I don’t read the books anyway. I agree that most tests are structured in a way that they don’t really measure how well someone has grasped the material – I’ve taken a lot of math tests where there will only be one question for a certain problem (ie, one question where you graph coordinates, maybe two where you simplify fractions), and that’s definitely not enough to show anyone really understands the material.
But I think Feeny has a point here, too – how can you tell someone has actually grasped the material if you don’t have any sort of standard to measure them too? Sure, in English classes, you can have discussions on the books, which would then alienate people with certain learning disabilities or speech impediments or people who get really anxious over being wrong while the really vocal and loud people just talk for half an hour, but how would apply a “no test, no homework, only in-class discussion”-type learning system to math classes?
I have to stop now or this will turn into a book.
Feeny makes a point I probably made, in “how can you be sure the kids will actually learn anything and do the work if they aren’t going to be tested on it”. Feeny challenges Turner: give the class the test. That way he’ll know for sure if the kids will do the work when they know they don’t have to. If they all do badly, then Turner has to follow Feeny’s teaching methods. If they do well, Feeny will consider this “no test” thing. Hey, remember when Feeny let Cory teach the class instead of taking a test that one time? And Feeny just chilled in the classroom while Cory was like “call me Hey Dude” and then Cory actually read a book and then taught us all a very valuable lesson about racism? Sure there was an actual test involved, but that seems like a sort of off method of teaching, like the kind Turner might get into later on in life.
Eric has to bail on shooting hoops so he can go shopping with Desiree. Amy calls Eric whipped, and Jason begs Eric to dump the girl and play basketball with him. Desiree shows up and first thinks Jason is there doing yardwork. When he mentions playing basketball, Desiree wonders if he isn’t too petite to play. That appears to be Jason’s berserk button, and he asks Eric if he’s going to let her speak to him like that. But Desiree is attractive, and a senior, so Eric chooses her over his friend who has only been in twice as many episodes as Desiree so far.
Turner says some stuff about Grapes of Wrath, and then hands out the a piece of paper, while saying that, like the migrant farm workers, they have to prove themselves to the boss, and in this case it means they have to answer a few questions to prove to Feeny that they can get away with not taking a test. Cory immediately notices it’s actually a test. The entire class is scandalized.
Cory: You gave us your word!
Shawn: I even read the book!
Entire class: *gasps*
Well, there you go, just send Shawn to Feeny to tell him that he actually read the book when he didn’t have to! Problem solved!
Turner explains that it’s Feeny’s rules, not his, but Cory won’t stand for this. He refuses to take the test, and puts his test sheet emphatically in Turner’s hands. Immediately Cory has no idea what he just did. Shawn first wonders if he can actually do that, and then goes to give Turner his test as well. The entire class then follows suit.
Feeny enters. He remarks that clearly the students know all the material very well, since they all finished the test two minutes after class started. You know, Turner could’ve made the test just have questions like “Did you read the book?” “Are you prepared for a class discussion?” “What is the title of the book?” That would technically be a test, but not so much one that would make everyone upset at him for breaking his word.
Feeny sees all the tests are blank, and Turner explains that everyone refused to take the test. This is unacceptable for Feeny. He tells the kids to “take this test, or die.”
Cory responds to this in the most logical way possible: He stands at the front of the room, rallies the class do what the workers in The Grapes of Wrath did, form a union, and walk out in protest.
Feeny says if the students are going to form a union, he’ll show them what management can do. He then says that every moment, their bravery and resolve is quickly fading.
Cory continues rousing everyone in the cafeteria.
Cory: What are we?
Students: We are kings!
Cory: And what do kings say?
Students: Ah- uh…..
Cory: They say… no more macaroni!
Students: No more macaroni!
Cory: We want steak!
Students: We want steak!
Cory: And what do we want with our steak?
Turner and Feeny are observing the rally. Turner thinks they should just let the kids burn out, don’t break their spirit. But Feeny doesn’t play that way. He pulls a megaphone out of nowhere, and announces he is canceling the 7th grade dance, and the entire football season – which means no cheerleaders, to Shawn’s massive pain. I don’t think Feeny realistically could cancel the entire football season for the entire school because Jonathan Turner’s 4th period English class is protesting a test they were promised they wouldn’t have to take, but there’s no arguing with a man who pulled a megaphone out of thin air.
Feeny grants everyone a 1-minute amnesty starting 55 seconds ago, so everyone can go back to class and take the test without any punishment. But Cory still refuses. They’re a union, after all, and unions go on strike! He announces they’re all going to walk out of school, so he marches out, but only Shawn follows him this time. Shawn tries to bail on Cory at the last second, but Cory drags him out, and the rest of the class follows Feeny. Feeny tells Turner that for Cory and Shawn, he’s going to go nuclear – he’s going to call their mothers.
As a sidenote, all the girls in this class are really well-dressed. None of them are dressed in a way that scream “mid-1990s!”. There’s still a lot of plaid in that classroom, but all the girls are wearing cute blouses and pants. Although I am no great lover or judge of fashion.
The basketball game didn’t go well. Jason asks Eric if he’s going to dump Desiree or if they need to find a permanent replacement for him. Desiree arrives and tells Eric that she’s heard a new mall opened right across from the old mall, and she was hoping they could explore it together, say on Thursday? But Thursdays are when Eric plays basketball! Eric waffles around for a few seconds, and then finally makes a decision. He tells Desiree he’s sick of her bossing him around all month, and it’s all been him doing things for her, and what was he ever going to get out of this relationship?
“Goodbye forever” Desiree says, walking to That Other Part of the School.
Cory is upset that there’s nothing on the news about their walkout. Every time I turn on the news, it’s always “this causes cancer”, “we’ve just found this food you’ve been eating your entire life is terrible for you”, or “so-and-so opened fire on such-and-such public space earlier today”, so I would welcome such insignificant news as “two boys walk out of school in protest of exam.”
Amy and Alan are not pleased. Alan asks them what they possibly could’ve been thinking. Shawn concedes that maybe they could’ve been smarter, but at least they were standing up for their principles! (Ha, standing for their principles against their principal!) Sadly, Shawn doesn’t actually remember what their principles were, but he remembers something about macaroni.
Unexpectedly, Turner shows up at the house, carrying his motorcycle helmet. He introduces himself, Amy asks about the helmet. Turner replies that he falls off the desk a lot. He’s come to mediate the situation, since it all started in his class, and bizarrely, there’s a quick cut from the living room to the kitchen, with Turner and the boys walking through the door. Normally either the entire scene would just be in the living room, or the cut would have them already in the next room.
Cory still doesn’t know what the big deal is. “All we did is read The Grapes of Wrath”, he says. And what they learned was that you have to stand up for your rights. That why they went on strike, and that’s why they’re in trouble.
Cory: So I guess this is what happens when the little guys try to stand up to the bosses, huh?
Turner: No, let me straighten you out, Matthews. You threw a hissy-fit, and you walked out.
Cory: We went on strike!
Turner: No, you didn’t go on strike, because you didn’t have the one thing you need to go on strike! You know what you didn’t have?
Shawn: Mob connections.
No, what they didn’t have is a job. They’re just kids, not migrant grape-pickers. Turner admits he made a mistake too – he should’ve taught them that you can only take actions if you’re also willing to take responsibility for those actions. Turner says they have two choices – they can go back to being students and take the test, or – Alan chimes in – they can go out and take a test called “find a job or starve”. That’s really not much of a choice, since you legally have to stay in school until you’re 16 here, and you can’t get a legal job until you’re 14, and even then, most places won’t hire you until you’re 16.
Cory guesses it’s time to talk to Feeny, so it’s obvious there’s no way he and Shawn are going to win this argument. Turner says something about how Feeny will always be there, you can just turn around and-
Cory and Shawn explain to Feeny that, after having read the book end to beginning, they learned that you have to fight for what you believe in. But the difference is, the Joad family was out in the real world. Cory and Shawn are just kids, they aren’t in the world yet. …even though the title of the show is “Boy Meets World”, I guess they haven’t been properly introduced yet.
Feeny says he’ll think about it, and sends the boys inside. He tells Turner that it definitely sounds like they understood the material. Turner tells him they learned it all without taking a test. Feeny asks wouldn’t you call all that they went through a test? Turner would rather call it a “learning experience”, which is what they always called parties in my high school.
Eric is ready to go play basketball, but Jason isn’t dressed for it. A sound similar to that of a faulty smoke detector is heard, and we all immediately recognize that sound as that of the pager Eric had been using this whole episode. But it’s coming from Jason! Yes, Jason is dating Desiree now. Because. He tells Eric he’s only in it for the break-up kiss, and Eric gives him a look like “Oh, you.” Desiree’s dress in this scene is very plaidtastic.
So, I guess what we learned in this episode, is that kids should never stand up for what they believe in, because they’re just kids, and kids are dumb.
Okay, no, I understand that the message was “migrant farm workers in the 1930s know more about injustice than 7th graders in 1994”, but it really just came off as “you’re just kids, you can’t protest anything.” The kids in that class knew they were being wronged. Their teacher told them they wouldn’t be tested on the material, and then they were. There’s more worthy things to stage a walk-out over, sure, but there was an injustice, the kids identified it, and the kids protested it.
But it’s still a good lesson, for the only reason that teachers will keep screwing you over your entire school life. You just have to learn to deal with it. Maybe when you get to be an adult and people are breaking promises and otherwise being unjust, you can do something about it. But when you’re a student, regardless of age, and your teacher is a wishy-washy, flip-flopping, contradictory liar, you just have to deal with it and complain about the teacher to your friends. Maybe if it’s bad enough, you can tell your parents and they’ll do something. But otherwise, tough luck.
For a last sidenote, I didn’t realize The Grapes of Wrath was such a long book. Wikipedia says it’s 619 pages. I’m glad I never had to read it in school. They probably would’ve assigned us 100 pages per day, and I’m a really slow reader, especially for assigned readings. I mean, it’s taken me 3 weeks to get through 200 pages of A Game of Thrones, and that’s actually a really interesting book that I’m reading for leisure.
And finally, some food for thought: What would this episode have been like if Topanga was in it?