Next month I will travel to Los Angeles to join many of my students, almost all of whom I have only know through our Adobe Connect online classroom, for commencement from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. As a full-time faculty member at USC, I have the privilege to work with students from across the country and world in our face-to-face, synchronous online Masters of Arts in Teaching program. I prepare teachers for certification or to advance their practice.
One of my students was able to “score” tickets for us to go see a taping of the new Disney series “Girl Meets World” on May 14. To say I am excited, well, that would be an understatement! Maybe “totally stoked” would be more apt a description. When I was a middle school social studies teacher and later a middle and high school principal, the original series “Boy Meets World” was at the peak of its popularity. One of the greatest memories (and greatest honors) I have of my middle school students was when they would liken me to Feeny. Since I am overdue for a blog post, I decided to consider some of the many lessons that Feeny could teach all of us as educators. Here are my top ten (each scene is quoted first and then it is followed by what I have deemed “the Feeny Lesson” from that quote):
Season 1, Episode 1 (1993):
Cory Matthews: Mr. Feeny, who cares about a guy who killed himself for some dumb girl?
Mr. George Feeny: The tragedy here, Mr. Matthews, is not about a dumb girl, or the boy who kills himself because of her. It's about the all-consuming power of love. And the inevitability of its influence on each of our lives.
Cory Matthews: [pauses] Are you aware that I'm only eleven years old?
Lesson: Don’t talk down to your students, believe that they can understand and learn by being spoken to like adults—even if they don’t realize it!
Season 4, Episode 17 (1997):
Mr. George Feeny: Even though this isn't a classroom at the moment, would you mind if I taught you a lesson anyway?
Topanga Lawrence: Please.
Mr. George Feeny: Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I cared for someone as deeply as you two care for each other now.
Cory Matthews: You believe we love each other?
Mr. George Feeny: And for no reason I understood, my wife was taken from me, and I haven't been so deeply in love since.
Cory Matthews: [to Topanga] Feeny believes we love each other!
Mr. George Feeny: I believe that when you find love, you hold on to it, and cherish it! Because there is nothing finer, and may never come again. And that, my dears, is the most important thing I could teach you.
Lesson: Our work as educators is not and should not be bound by the walls of the classroom—there are important life lessons that we can teach our students that extend far beyond the formal curriculum.
Season 2, Episode 9 (1994):
Katherine 'Kat' Tompkins: This Jonathan Turner guy, what's the deal with him?
George Feeny: It's really not my place to comment, from one teacher to another.
Katherine 'Kat' Tompkins: Oh, come on. He asked me out! I just wanna know if he's an axe murderer.
George Feeny: It wasn't on his resumé.
Lesson: How to handle gossip in the teacher’s lounge—enough said!
Season 7, Episode 23 (2000):
Mr. George Feeny: Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good
Topanga: Don't you mean "do well"?
Mr. George Feeny: No, I mean "do good".
Lesson: Doing “well” and doing “good” are not the same thing—and as teachers, it is not that we must work to merely do our jobs well, but we must strive to “do good” for our communities, our schools, and, most importantly, our students.
Season 1, Episode 8 (1993):
Cory Matthews: Shawn, what was your mother's maiden name?
Shawn Hunter: Cordini.
Cory Matthews: Cordini, so that would make you a WOP, right?
Shawn Hunter: What did you call me?
Cory Matthews: You heard what I called you.
Shawn Hunter: [to Feeny] Did you hear what he called me?
George Feeny: I heard what he called you.
Shawn Hunter: What're you going to do about it?
George Feeny: He's the teacher, what're YOU going to do about it?
Shawn Hunter: I'm gonna knock his head off!
Cory Matthews: What if you couldn't? What if you couldn't do anything about it?
Shawn Hunter: What?
Cory Matthews: What if you lived in a country where I could KILL you just because of your mom's last name.
Shawn Hunter: Cory, what're you talking about?
Cory Matthews: A 15 year old girl is DEAD! Doesn't anybody care? She was really smart and totally cool. Her name was Anne Frank, she wrote this book. They say she died of typhus but they killed her, BECAUSE her name was Anne Frank.
Lesson: Sometimes our students can be the best teachers of each other—and our job should include giving them opportunities to do so.
Season 4, Episode 11 (1996):
George Feeny: Eric, in the play of your life all your great scenes lie ahead of you.
Eric Matthews: So you're saying in thirty or forty years I could write a play that you would wanna come and see?
George Feeny: No, tonight pretty much killed any interest I had in the theater.
Eric Matthews: Mr. Feeny you know everything. Where does my life go from here?
George Feeny: Well, now, you have passion. You have drive. You certainly have guts. I frankly can't wait to see what happens to you.
Eric Matthews: So you're not gonna tell me to give up my life as an actor and go get a college education?
George Feeny: Eric I told you to get a college education ten-thousand times. I don't have to tell you anymore.
Eric Matthews: What about my life as an actor?
George Feeny: Get a college education.
Lesson: Encourage students and support them in even their wildest dreams—but tether them to reality as well, and guide them toward choices that will open doors rather than close them.
Season 6, Episode 1 (1998):
Mr. George Feeny: You can't tell Cory and Topanga what to do. I've been trying to do that since the first grade. I remember when I tried to separate their desks. She kicked me. He bit me. And some little punk kept saying "Leave 'em alone. They should get married."
Shawn Hunter: I was cute then, huh?
Mr. George Feeny: Precious.
Lesson: Looping works—when we stay with students year after year, we develop a better understanding of who they are as people and what their unique needs are. Even if we don’t loop, it is important for us and to them that we maintain continued relationships with our students even after they move on to another teacher.
Season 4, Episode 15 (1997):
Mr. George Feeny: [passing by] Good morning, Miss Lawrence, Mr. Matthews, Mr. Hunter.
[stops, then turns to Shawn, who is dressed as a girl]
Mr. George Feeny: If there's anything you need to talk about, my door is always open.
Shawn Hunter: It’s for an article we’re writing, Mr. Feeny!
Mr. George Feeny: I'm not here to judge.
Lesson: Notice when our students may need someone to talk to—then remind them that we are there to listen and that we will listen without judgment, that we will support them no matter what.
Season 4, Episode 19 (1997):
Cory Matthews: Mr. Feeny, look, the show's proving that we're absorbing the right kind of knowledge, I mean that's why we're the champions.
[the class applauds]
George Feeny: Hold it, hold it, wait a minute. Champions of what, Mr. Matthews? Of a generation whose verbal and mathematical skills have sunk SO low, when you have the highest technology at your fingertips? Gutenburg's generation thirsted for a new book every six months. Your generation gets a new web page every six seconds. And how do you use this technology? To beat King Koopa, and save the princess. Shame on you. You deserve what you get.
Lesson: Technology is only as effective as the users—and just because we use technology for something does not make the thing we are using technology for somehow inherently valuable or worthwhile.
Season 7, Episode 23 (2000):
[Eric hugs Mr. Feeny and follows Topanga and Shawn out the door]
George Feeny: So Mr. Matthews
Cory Matthews: You think we've known each other long enough for you to call me Cory?
George Feeny: I think I've known you long enough to call you Cornielius
Cory Matthews: Ssh! Mr. Feeny! Not even Topanga knows that.
George Feeny: Your secret is safe with me.
Cory Matthews: Well. I got Topanga to go to New York.
George Feeny: Good for you.
Cory Matthews: She's not even scared anymore.
George Feeny: Nor should she be.
Cory Matthews: I am.
George Feeny: Well, you have a right to be.
[Cory finally breaks down and hugs Mr. Feeny]
Cory Matthews: You coming with us Mr. Feeny? You gonna sneak up on us in Central Park or something?
George Feeny: No, I shall remain here.
Cory Matthews: No. You'll always be with us. As long as we live okay?
[Cory walks out the door. Mr. Feeny looks around the room]
George Feeny [the last line of the series “Boy Meets World”]: I love you all... Class dismissed
Lesson: Know your students well, even better than they want their friends to know them—and love them, even if you wait until they all leave the room to tell them, because you will always be with them (whether you’ve done them right or done them wrong).
The inimitable William Daniels, who played Feeny in “Boy Meets World,” had two other roles in his career that hold special places in my heart: As John Adams in the 1969(?) musical AND 1972 film “1776,” he was with me every year that I taught middle school social studies and taught that very play and as the voice of K.I.T.T. in the TV series “Knight Rider,” he was a significant part of my own childhood television watching! I would feel remiss if I did not include two bonus lessons from Feeny, but in each of those other two significant roles:
Act I, Scene 3 – (1972—“1776”)
John Adams: Now you'll write it, Mr. J.
Thomas Jefferson: Who will make me, Mr. A?
John Adams: I.
Thomas Jefferson: You?
John Adams: Yes!
[Jefferson—6 feet 4—steps up, towering over Adams—5 feet 8—and looks down at him]
Thomas Jefferson: How?
[tapping his chest with the quill pen]
John Adams: By physical force, if necessary.
Lesson: There are times when we must make a stand—even when the odds are stacked against us—so that the job will get done. Teachers are often the little guys and we must stand up to the big guys, for what we know is right, even when (like Jefferson with Adams) they are actually on our side (although, history tells us of the extraordinary love-hate relationship those two Founding Fathers really had).
Season 2, Episode 5 (1983—“Knight Rider”)
K.I.T.T.: Michael, I've been thinking about David Dudley's sportscar. I'm afraid it may have met with a dreadful end.
Michael Knight: I don't follow.
K.I.T.T.: It's occurred to me that in so far as the car is essentially evidence in a shooting, those hoodlums may have disposed of it in that crusher at the wrecking yard.
Michael Knight: Oh, well that would make a compact out of it, wouldn't it?
K.I.T.T.: I fail to see the humor in that. It's a most humiliating way to go, transformed into a tin can..
Michael Knight: Well, I'll remember that the next time I have sardines.
K.I.T.T.: Really, Michael. Sometimes you're so insensitive.
Lesson: Have empathy and realize that the lived experiences of our students may not be the same as our own—the things that may seem inconsequential or fodder for a joke to us may actually be genuinely and deeply personal for them.
It is worth the side note for me to explain why “Girl Meets World” is really the full circle for me. Like Feeny, I was a classroom teacher turned principal. And like Cory Matthews (who grew up to become a teacher like his own mentor/second father “Mr. Feeny”), I grew up to become a teacher in (I can only hope) the likeness of my own mentors/second fathers, Mr. D and Mr. E and, of course, my own father who was also a teacher and then school administrator.
As I understand it, William Daniels has reprised (or will reprise) the role of Feeny in some capacity for the new series and I can only hope that he will appear on the episode taping on May 14—but in any event, I can’t wait! And so concludes this blog post and my tribute to “Feeny” a.k.a. William Daniels a.k.a. K.I.T.T. a.k.a. John Adams. Class dismissed!