I held off watching this episode for awhile after reading the Netflix synopsis of the episode:
To try and get ahead in math class, Kevin decides to cheat on his test, leading only to bigger problems.
After seeing Kevin struggle in math earlier this season (see refresher here) and then ask for help (which was a big hurdle for him), I didn’t want to see him regress. When I watch a show and get invested in the character, I’m always rooting for them to make the right choices, even if those aren’t realistic to how humans behave in reality.
After postponing the watch for a month, I decided to go ahead and watch it so I can continue through the series.
While watching the storyline, I wasn’t as disappointed in Kevin as I thought I would be. In fact, I empathized with his situation and feelings, as I usually do for most episodes.
The episode starts off with Kevin in math class and thinking how he has grown to respect his math teacher after a rocky beginning. Kevin is so deep in thinking and smiling about the developments that his teacher, Mr. Collins, notices, and calls Kevin out in front of the whole class and asks what he finds so amusing. I laughed really hard when this happened. The Wonder Years’ more comical moments occur when viewers see the discrepancy between how characters perceive Kevin and know what his intentions and thoughts really are.
Kevin is determined to continue making progress and impressing his teacher. While in the library studying, he overhears other students talking about cheating on the math quizzes. The group leader asks Kevin if he wants in on the cheating, after noticing Kevin overheard the plan. Kevin declines and chooses to study hard. I was happy to see that Kevin initially makes a good decision, and even tries to warn the students that they would get caught.
When Kevin gets his next quiz grade back, he notices that the same 72 that got him a “C” the previous week gets him a “D” the next week. After Paul explains curved grading to Kevin (which bases a grade on other students performance), he realizes that the cheating students’ high grades disrupted the original curve and led Kevin to get a lower grade.
Kevin is upset about the kids’ continued cheating, especially since it now is impacting his grades. He thinks that Mr. Collins will eventually catch on to the cheating. When Collins fails to react, Kevin confronts him and tells him how unfair the curve is. Collins’ response to Kevin: focus on yourself. Kevin reacted with the same anger I would have at his age. It’s not easy to focus on oneself if conditions are unfair. It’s not a good feeling when you are telling you teacher a just complaint and the teacher isn’t listening to you.
However, as an adult, I see two problems in Kevin’s anger. One, Kevin thinks it is obvious that he is telling the teacher about the cheating but he doesn’t’ come out and explicitly tell him about the students’ behaviors. How is the teacher supposed to know what Kevin means? I like that the show points out this flaw in Kevin’s communication, which we see over and over again throughout the series. He constantly assumes others understand what he means through just hints. His flaw is a valuable lesson to viewers: be direct and don’t assume people can read your mind.
Second, Collins raised a good point. Not paying attention to your own needs and journey leads to unnecessary problems, particularly with driving your mind crazy (as it was doing to Kevin).
As a result in thinking Collins didn’t understand his “obvious” remarks, Kevin thinks that Collins purposely turning blind eye, and his faith in Collins shatters. Kevin decides to go ahead and cheat to balances the scale in his favor. His decision ultimately backfires. Once he starts cheating, he can’t stop. His grades continue to rise to the point that Mr Collins recommends Kevin join the honor’s class. Kevin knows he is in a pickle even before he attends the class. He later realizes that had he stuck with working hard, he would have eventually gotten the good grades and felt proud for whatever he earned.
Kevin goes to tell Collins what he did. Before he confesses, Collins says “Had enough?” Collins had known all along. He punished the other cheating students by giving a quiz not from the book (which they ultimately failed). For Kevin, he allowed him to learn the lesson through the honors class ordeal. I thought the Collins’ tactics were more impactful way to drive a lesson than the traditional way of punishing the student through confrontation, yelling, and outright failing.
The episode made me nostalgic for school and reminded me of the great teachers I had like Mr. Collins. I wouldn’t want to relive the social anxieties that come with being in middle in high school, but would love to revisit those feelings of being inspired by a teacher as Kevin was.
Overall, this episode was a good contrast to the previous filler episode. I always enjoy the insightful, lesson-oriented episodes from The Wonder Years.
Image Source: ABC