Wayside School

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I.M. Meen standing in front of the newly founded Wayside School, circa 1975.

Wayside School is a satirical Orwellian book series written by Louis Sachar, about the notorious elementary school funhouse deathtrap of the same name. The school was founded in 1975 by infamous occult anarchist I.M. Meen and then-young journalist Sachar, in Berkeley, California.

Sachar spent time as a janitor and coach while working for Meen. He would write about the childish and strange children; they were childish and and strange, even for their age. He compiled and published his stories into three Wayside School books: Sideways Stories from Wayside School (1978), Wayside School Is Falling Down (1989), and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger (1995). In 2005, Nickelodeon and Teletoon conspired to make a cheap cartoon adaptation of the series, stylized like the no-budget Hanna-Barbera shows of the 1960s and 1970s.

Background[edit]

Coincidence?

Despite being more well-known for his infamous anti-education stance and fascism activism, and being only involved with the school for its first three years, I.M. Meen's life philosophy was crucial to the existence of Wayside. Not much else is known about his earlier life, but during the 1960s, Meen made himself a name through his kidnapping and imprisonment of well-behaved children, whom he frequently referred to as "bookworms", for the sake of an ideological agenda, and prided himself as uber-countercultural — he didn't just want to get rid of The Man, he wanted to become the man.

I.M. Meen was committed Satanist and viciously opposed both Christian children and atheist students, the former because their peace-loving and forgiveness ideology and their worship of his god's arch-enemy conflicted with his goals, and the latter because their belief in Science and denial of the existence of the divine made them refuse to convert to his Sorcery cult. Not to mention, both parties supported education, which Meen sought to break kids away from. He sought to lead rebel kids in a world dominational revolution to make himself the national Warlock, which he envisioned as the Democratic Children's Free Republic of Meenia. Any child who got in his way by attending school would be trapped in the magical labyrinth inside his book.

Although Meen's education crusades were stopped by some runaway kids, this didn't dampen his idealism. In the 1970s, Meen met UC Berkeley journalist Louis Sachar, who often pondered on the idea of what a kooky, anarchy-driven elementary school would be like. Meen and Sachar discussed the phenomenon, and Louis shared his experience working with kids as a yard teacher during an internship. The two decided to start Wayside School, and the former, hoping for the school to look unique and mystical, hired T.R. Ash, a construction worker known for his efforts to make the artwork of MC Escher a reality. The building was supposed to be one story tall with 30 classrooms in a row, but the construction workers goofed, and instead, they built a 30-story tall building with a classroom on each floor. Not only that, but they didn't even get the Escher-asthetic right; Meen and Sachar promptly scolded Ash for his failure, though at least he said he was sorry. Ash eventually became a physics teacher there, giving up on his dream up making Escher's blueprints real. Some sources also say that he didn't build the 19th floor, but the fact that a teacher by the name of Mrs. Jewls once sent a note there proves that theory false.

Early Years of the School[edit]

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For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia think they have an article about not only Wayside School, but also the school's primary founders.

Because his spotty record legally barred him from running an educational institution, but somehow did not make him legally unable to found a school, I.M. Meen had Louis go out and recruit a generous man to take the position of Wayside School's principal. The man with those exact traits went by the name of "Mr. Kidswatter", as he had a tendency to swat misbehaved brats. Although his criminal record kissed his chances of being Principal goodbye, Meen was allowed to be a guidance counselor, of all things. He would use this position to influence the children to adopt his nihilistic beliefs, and would also tell children how to rebel against Kidswatter.

Ultimately, Kidswatter and Meen would get into an influence power struggle over the students. In order to convince the students to side with him, Meen set the doors up in positions designed to interfere with Kidswatter's work. Out of his boiling anger, Kidswatter enacting a rule that stated that the word "door" was equivalent to profanity, and that any student caught using the word would be sent to the 19th floor. Meen used this decree to make Kidswatter out to be a villain to the kids. Taking a cue from Meen's playbook, Kidswatter told students to start calling the doors "goozacks" instead. However, Kidswatter would eventually show open contempt for students and insult them, which lead to Meen getting more support from offended students. All that ended, though, when two dissenting students were imprisoned in Meen's magical book for refusing to partake in an occult ritual. After being fired by Kidswatter in 1978, Meen left the school to pursue a career in comedy, which again was just another vehicle for Meen to commit crimes. Authorities frequently attempted to put his head on a platter, but those pathetic cops always failed — you can't kill someone when they're immortal, silly police!

One of the most publicized incidents at the school, which brought it to national attention, was the story of the 30th floor class. The class was taught by Mrs. Gorf, a notorious witch-turned-teacher, who, with her occult powers, would turn students into apples for the slightest offenses. Even Principal Kidswatter was horrified by this practice, but he was unable to fire her without risking a hefty lawsuit, as he could not prove Mrs. Gorf's use of witchcraft. Alas, the class in its entirety was reduced to apples. Fortunately, the kids figured out how to move in fruit bodies, and so they tripped the monstrous authoritarian teacher, and used a mirror to get herself turned into an apple. Louis came by and ate the apple, unaware of its origin; due to the involvement of witchcraft, he was not convicted for murder. He would later publish this and other sideways stories about Wayside School in 1978.

The Students[edit]

Because of the infamy surrounding Mrs. Gorf, the media was interested in Mrs. Jewls's class, and so Louis paid the most attention to them. There were around thirty students in the class. Joseph, or just "Joe", was known for his big orange 'fro and unusual method of counting. John's vision wasn't biologically auto-fixed, and he saw things the way magnifying glasses do. Joy and Maurecia were two very different friends, one being a cruel kleptomaniac and the other a sweet and sensitive girl who loved ice cream (and Todd). Bebe was an artist who had a little brother named Ray on the 19th story, and was friends with pencil-munching student Calvin, although she oddly had no friend named Hobbes. Jason was another notable nerdy delinquent in the school. Todd was notable for being sent home on the kindergarten bus daily, for the most minor and ridiculous infractions. Stephen was known for his fashion tastes being centuries behind, oftentimes dressing like a goblin. Myron and Alisson were the only two normal kids in the school.

The second Wayside School book, Wayside School Is Falling Down, covered a new transfer student, Benjamin Nushmutt, who, seeing how ridiculous his last name was, decided to go by "Mark Miller". This resulted in him being denied lunch. Despite its title, the book never actually shows Wayside School falling down; rather, it shows the school becoming infested with cows, after Mrs. Jewls rung her cowbell too many times during music lessons. The students are forced to transfer to other schools, with Todd being sent to the worst school of all — he was sent to your school.

The third book, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, documented the students returning to school and having to deal with the exploits of the fascist substitute teachers. One of them was Mrs. Gorf's son, Mr. Gorf, who had the supernatural ability to steal the students' voices. He was defeated by lunch lady Ms. Mush by smashing a pepper pie in his face, making him sneeze repeatedly until his nose came off, returning the voices to their rightful owners. The most notorious of the substitutes was Ms. Wendy Nogard, who allegedly had a third ear that could hear thoughts. Some experts, however, believe that Nogard simply was no guard. Moreover, as shown by Tien, the only paired sensory organs that can have a third is the eye, which is simply used to have advanced depth perception, and nothing else. Louis, however, got together with Nogard after she became a good guy, and confimed that she did indeed have a third ear.

Also worth noting is the basement, which is technically another floor. The basement houses a a group of black uniformed men who investigate the school, and a purgatory for sentient dead rats, one of which managed to disguise himself as a human student and briefly escape to Mrs. Jewls's class.

The 19th Story[edit]

Contrary to popular belief, the 19th floor, was in fact, actually built. T.R. Ash may have built the school sideways, but he didn't screw up so bad that he missed a floor. He's not that stupid. However, he did not build the floor into the building itself. He built the 19th floor off-campus. This was not a goof on his part, but it was an order of Meen. The 19th floor, thus, would have been "missing" even if it was actually a 19th room in a horizontal room sequence had the school been built correctly. Thus, the building is still 30 stories tall even though it appears to be 29, though given the basement, it appears 30 stories but is actually 31 stories.

The 19th floor was designed to be a prison. As stated above, students caught using a word classified as Profanity in Mr. Kidswatter's book would be sent there. The teacher in the 19th floor is Mrs. Zarves, who assigns homework 24/7. Not only that, but the kids stay in there, 24/7.

It is unknown how Alisson was able to get into the 19th floor, which was the only way Louis found out about the floor. It is believed that the floor is accessible through the elevators, which themselves are not accessible normally, but can be unlocked and activated with a light switch. There is a floor 19 button, and pressing it does not go to floor 18 or floor 20. However, Mrs. Zarves's anonymity proves that the elevators cannot reach the uncharted room unless the functions of the buttons are changed. Even then, those who can hack the buttons and get to the 19th floor risk the elevator being stuck there for eternity, especially since Kidswatter ordered one of the elevators to only go up, and the other to only go down. The up-going elevator can be reused, but only if it is yanked off of the 30th floor to fall down and break, then recieve repairs. Not even Meen, Louis, Mr. Ash or Kidswatter know the exact location of the 19th floor, though, as they both forgot, and Alice, the one student who went there herself and escaped to tell about it, got out by waking up from a dream.

As stated above, Benjamin Nushmutt felt embarrassed by his surname, and went by "Mark Miller". Ironically, the real Mark Millar was reportedly a student in the 19th story who went by "Benjamin Nushmutt", but Millar has never said anything about Wayside. He was never reported anywhere other than in the 19th story, so it is possible that he may have escaped by somehow breaking the wall, but this still leaves us with no clue of the whereabouts of the room, but Millar's nationality indicates that it may be in Scotland. Mr. Gorf did steal a Scottish man's voice.

Closure[edit]

After twenty years of being the strangest grade school in America, Wayside School was shut down in 1995. It was suspected, at first, that this was the result of complaints about the occult powers being used on the students, mad cow diseases, and a high suicide rate reported from students who jumped out of 30-story windows after constantly being bullied and sent home on the Kindergarten bus by their teachers every day. However, this is actually not the case—the school was being investigated as early as the 1980s for this by the FBI and OSHA, and they could not declare the school a criminal institution.

The actual cause of the shutdown was at Louis Sachar's request—he feared the school and its issues would no longer be taken seriously due to the media coverage and his books, and he wanted to sever all ties with Meen. Likewise, Meen, still being alive, also wanted to sever all ties with the school, as he was deeply ashamed of his greatest failure. Meen and Sachar's lives both went somewhere, as the former eventually wrote Holes, and the latter would have a edutainment game made about him. Mr. Ash, however, was less lucky, as he went into poverty and lived as a hobo until the mid-2000s, when he was sought out and interviewed by Teletoon and Nickelodeon when they were creating their butchered Wayside propaganda cartoons; Ash exaggerated the truth and told lies in his recountings, knowing the show would be destined to bomb this way, as revenge to Sachar and Meen for throwing him under the bus.

Animated adaptation[edit]

Nothing says respect to the source material like making your adaptation look nothing like the source material. Also, why do so many young male Nicktoon protagonists have buck teeth?

In the mid-2000s, a then-floundering Nickelodeon teamed up with cheapskate Canadian nationalist channel Teletoon to adapt the books into a cartoon series. To make the product more appealing to a broader audience of kids, the "creep factor" of the books' original illustrations was simplified into a more stilted, easily-tweenable Flash animation style, while the cartoon's storylines were a mix of high school sitcom tropes, elementary school cartoon tropes, and generic SpongeBob-esque "wacky" antics, as opposed to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-esque satire, dark comedy, and surrealism of the books.

The show's producers blew a huge budget on attempting to get the rights to classic songs such as "Respect", "Bad to the Bone", and "Eye of the Tiger", to be used as stock music in episodes. However, the music department folks hated the show, so they made copyright-friendly, rearranged versions of the songs to make the executives think the songs were used, but also to make the royalties sent to the original songs' artists pointless. They also made a theme song for the show sung by Skye Sweetnam, which was so bubblegum ska-poppy that it made the Backstreet Boys look like Satanic blackened death metal by comparison.

In order to further make the story appealing to a modern audience, the characters were greatly changed. The main character was Todd, who was changed from being a regular student and the happiest kid in the school, to a rather sarcastic and pessimistic transfer student, and effectively replaced Bejamin Nushmutt. Myron was now an idiot, Jenny was a redneck tomboy dressed as a riot cop, and Maurecia was changed into a rollerskating tomboy stalker obsessed with Todd, and a buddy of Jenny's (as opposed to Joy, who was nowhere to be seen in the show). Stephen was now dressed as an elf, and much of the characters were flat-out removed. Louis Sachar's self insert-character was changed into a blue-goateed hippie, but ironically lacked the multicolored Soviet mustache he had in the books. Also, per the nagging of soccer mom groups, Mr. Kidswatter was now a harmless goofball and no longer the Imperial ruler he once was. The 19th story is only mentioned, and is never actually shown. Interestingly though, the building was also changed into a building just like the ones portrayed by M.C. Escher, which is was the real building was SUPPOSED to be. Ironically, T.R. Ash himself never appears, and neither did I.M. Meen. The latter was a notorious historical terrorist, though, and neither of them were really touched upon in the books anyways. T.R. Ash was mentioned, though.

Initially hyped in commercials as being the best thing since sliced bread, the show was quickly dead on arrival, receiving lukewarm reviews and poor ratings. Like many an obscure Nickelodeon show in the mid-to-late 2000s, it was quickly dumped off to make room for more SpongeBob and iCarly reruns. It's developed a vague cult following just like many other obscure Nicktoons from around the time, but isn't even as well-remembered as The Mighty B!. On the show, Sachar said "I didn't like it at all", most of all for being full of lies. It is unknown how Meen felt about the show, but given that he considers the school his greatest embarrassment, he likely doesn't care anymore.

See also[edit]