You Lose!

“Of course you don’t know. You don’t know because only I know. If you knew and I didn’t know, then you’d be teaching me instead of me teaching you – and for a student to be teaching his teacher is presumptuous and rude. Do I make myself clear?” – Mr. Turkentine (from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

Willy Wonka’s rant.

“Why doesn’t he get it?”
“Because he broke the rules.”
“Rules? What rules? I didn’t know there were any rules?”

Many of us remember that Gene Wilder’s famous tirade on Charlie and his Uncle ended when Charlie returned the everlasting gobstopper and saved the day. He had been screamed at, told that everything he had worked for was lost, that he didn’t follow some random rules he wasn’t aware of, and worst of all, disappointed the man he admired most. How is it that Charlie came through in the clutch when all seemed lost? Why didn’t he just give up?

Do our student feel like Charlie at exam time? Do any of us act like Willy Wonka?

At this time of year, I cannot help but feel some of our students are going to feel like Charlie, especially our EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners. Too often, these summative evaluations (including IB exams) are about ‘losing.’ Where did these rules come from? How did I break them? What does that fine print say?

Is this how we want to end it? And in spite of it all, Charlie somehow managed to put the gobstopper back. Is that the value that our students are walking away with?

One of the hottest topics with our faculty is plagiarism. The conversation is ugly, occasionally pushing the limits on cultural sensitivity, and mostly ending without easy answers. Turkentine’s quote speaks volumes about we, the teachers as the holders of precious information, that must be held at all costs. The screaming Willy Wonka, holding his magnifying glass over the lengthy contract that Charlie broke.


If I as a teacher am creating something on which you can cheat, then I would argue that something is wrong. If we need to put children in an environment in which they have to sit still and demonstrate something, then it better be something that demonstrates that the child can, dare I say, think. How can he or she cheat at that?

The good news is, when Charlie put the gobstopper back, he did it not because he learned something from Wonka or Turkentine, he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Of course, Charlie, you won.