Every so often I feel nostalgic for the simpler times of the 1990s. Okay, so it’s more than “every so often”. Pretty much since the clock struck 12:01 on 1/1/2000 and Y2K didn’t happen, I’ve yearned for the return of those 1990s vibes.
Finally, the rest of the world has caught up with me.
Hulu recently made the wonderfully brilliant decision of putting up the episodic adventures of Cory Matthews and friends known as “Boy Meets World.”
The show originally began in 1993, which is only a year after I myself began, so I got to experience this heartwarming show in syndication along with re-runs of Saved by the Bell and Full House. Looking back, I was probably about seven or eight when my forray into the television dream world began, and even though I physically spent my formative years in the 2000s, my mind and heart were and are perpetually stuck in the 1990s.
Many times when I go back and watch shows I loved when I was a kid, I am disappointed by them. I often find the characters to be annoying (see Dawson from Dawson’s Creek) or selfish (see Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls) or completely and annoyingly out of touch with reality (see Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell). While it doesn’t ruin the nostalgia I felt or feel for these shows, it does make it difficult to make it through re-watches without fast-forwarding through the bullshit.
Boy Meets World is different.
Boy Meets World dealt with real issues (drugs, absentee parents, sex, education, racism etc.) without holding back or romanticizing it. The audience learned as Cory learned. The audience grew as Cory grew. It was real. Granted, it was also a sitcom, so complex problems had a nice habit of being solved in 22 minutes, which is not real, but the emotions behind these issues and the way the characters dealt with them were real.
Before I started to re-watch Boy Meets World, I had to make sure that doing so wouldn’t ruin everything for me. So, I took it slow. I watched an episode and thought about the implications of the lessons of the great George Feeny. And, I realized that these lessons still resonated with me. Not only that, I could see that they could resonate with the students that I teach every day.
Boy Meets World proves that the problems teenagers encounter haven’t changed all that much since the 90s. The way in which teenagers encounter these problems may have changed, but the basic principle still applies. For example, a kid may no longer bump into his bully in the hallway; he may only be bombarded and shamed by him online. Perhaps waiting by the phone for that special guy to ask you out on a Friday night has developed into having your friends around you at the mall when he finally manages to send you a snap. Maybe today’s youth are shaped by the Kardashians instead of the Clintons. Regardless, the inherent issues of bullying, sex and self-worth, and celebrity culture are all still present in one way or another. The technology may change, but teenagers don’t.
As I watch Cory and friends, it’s hard not to think about my own students. Are they going through these things too? Do they know what to do about them if they are? Will they find comfort and learn lessons from Boy Meets World like I did when I was their age? Or will they take their cues from other shows with more morally ambiguous characters and plot lines? How will that affect them growing up? All of these arise questions with no answers.
I hope that as I move through my career as an educator I keep in mind the lessons that Cory and the gang taught me and help my students to figure out for themselves how to be good people and affect the world positively. George Feeny said it best when he said, “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.” I try to live by this daily and I secretly encourage my students to do the same. Because the greatest lesson I learned from Boy Meets World is that you have to learn and grow in your own time. Not all of life’s problems can be solved in 22 minutes, even with a life lesson perfectly crafted by the world’s greatest educator. It takes years.
So, let’s just do what Cory did, and grow up slowly — one funny, awkward, didactic episode at a time.