Charlie Brown in the Third Grade

Ms. Hurley, why do you like Charlie Brown?

That’s what my third graders ask me every year.

God bless their hearts. They come into the third grade innocent. Taking everything at face value.

I never answer that question, because I never thought I liked Charlie Brown. I just think it’s a good tool to use to teach third graders about race in America.

Before school starts, I use my Amazon points to purchase classroom items such as posters, stickers, door décor, awards, window stickers and a new grade book -all decorated with Peanuts characters.

I found this Clean Desk Award on the website Teachers Pay Teachers. It’s a great way to teach the third grade organizational skills. I never have to worry about a messy desk. They never know when Ms. Hurley will give out the Clean Desk Award.

There is a huge welcome poster that hangs above the cozy classroom library. It’s the first poster the children see when they walk in. It says welcome in huge red letters, and features every Charlie Brown character-except Franklin.

There is a poster at the front of the room that states “In a good conversation, one person talks while the other listens,” and there you see Charlie Brown in a good conversation…

There is a Snoopy poster. It has a yellow backdrop and it reminds the children how to be a perfect friend. Lucy has a poster. Linus has a poster. There are posters with the whole gang- except Franklin. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand how many posters Franklin is in…

So I ask the children to create a poster for Franklin.

As the year goes by the children mature. The calendar at the front of the room finally has a picture of Franklin…

Franklin’s image for the calendar appears on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Around this time they are introduced to my Charlie Brown library.

I built the library by searching on eBay and Etsy for Charlie Brown memorabilia. I came across a set of old Charlie Brown books. They are so old the children have to ask special permission to read them and they MUST handle the books with care.

The ones who love to read try to keep them. Before they leave for the summer, I have to search their desks to make sure each one is returned.

During the year, I watch them silently read. It warms my heart to see them understand the humor from the Peanuts characters. Once they start to laugh and enjoy the content, I begin to ask them questions about the images and where they see themselves.

I then pull out the Charlie Brown dictionary- which always amazes them. (It amazed me too!) I add it to our classroom set of dictionaries. As time passes and they learn to define words and use them, I allow them to search the Charlie Brown dictionary.

As the year continues, the class grows older. The students are not new to third grade. They are fully third graders now.

Then one day, someone asks a question about identity – this always happens…someone is always curious about his or her self– and the class begins to argue and no one can come to a consensus. They turn to me and I turn to the dictionaries that they learned to trust and ask them if they ever looked up the words black or white. What do they think it means in a dictionary such as this one? I pull down the Charlie Brown dictionary.

The classroom is usually silent. Everyone thinking.

Then I flip the pages to white.

And read: White is the color of snow. Ducks have white feathers. The sheets on my bed are white. Marshmallows are white.

Next I turn the pages to black and read,

Franklin is Charlie Brown’s little black friend. He is talking to Charlie Brown on the telephone. Black is a color. Black is also another word for Negro, a person with dark skin. The words in this book are black.

The next thing that usually happens is a series of questions. Questions about what is in books and what images we accept without questions.

One year, the conversation happened after a trip to the New York Historical Society. The children were stunned to see a white educator – rather than a black one- teaching them about slavery in New York. They stood, uncertain, and couldn’t answer her questions. When we returned to the classroom, they expressed their discomfort with having a white educator telling them about their history.

Why did you feel uncomfortable? I asked.

Because, what was her ancestors doing when my ancestors were slaves? one little boy said quietly.

What do you think they were doing and why didn’t you ask her that?

A bossy girl at the front of the room replied, Because, that’s rude Ms. Hurley!

Why is that rude? Weren’t you uncomfortable? Was it okay for her to make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin? I’m not telling you to be rude. I am telling you to think. Think about your history and your stories and who is telling them and who will tell them if you don’t learn who you are.

Another year the conversation happened after singing the Black National Anthem. That was two years ago, when Trevor Noah and Roy Wood Jr. celebrated Franklin’s 50th year on the Daily Show. That was the same year the children learned the word stereotype.

Last year COVID happened right when the children started having the conversations. I thought, How can I introduce ‘race in America’ without the setting of the classroom? America quickly answered that question for me. Instead of discussing Franklin and Charlie Brown we cried about Floyd and Michael Brown, Jr.

Thank You, Mrs. Greenfield

Thank you Mrs. Greenfield for your dedication to my education

I was but a child when I came across Nathaniel’s Talking

It was a poem my second grade teacher skipped over for Henry and Mudge

At night, however, my sisters and I became self-teachers and rappers

We tied our hair up in towels and crochet blankets

We looked into the mirrors and recited

Nathaniels Talking until it became a song

We recited it until it became an anthem

We recited it until our mom called us down for dinner

We danced down the steps chanting,

Nathaniel’s talking and Nathaniel’s me

Talking about my philosophy!

And we added beats and danced to the rap

Thank You Mrs. Greenfield for your dedication to my education

I am but a teacher now and read, Nathaniel’s Talking

It’s a poem my third grade class encounter at the beginning of the year

and never fail to ask for us to read it again at the end.

Thank you Mrs. Greenfield for your dedication to my education.

Mrs. Eloise Greenfield was a beloved children’s author. She passed away this month in Washington, D.C., at age 92.

Thank you, Mr. Floyd Cooper

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain.

I checked my email and all at once the rain became a symbol.

I read the Associated Press title twice: Children’s book illustrator Floyd Cooper, who painted positive images of Black History, dies at 65.

I was blessed to meet Mr. Cooper in Philadelphia at the African American children’s fair in 2019. After signing a couple of books for my class, he spoke very briefly about being an illustrator. I remember telling him about my students and the Nat King Cole lesson I was currently working on. He listened closely and even asked me to send him some of my work.

While we never got to work together, I am very happy I met such a wonderful individual who painted pictures of yesterday so our children of today could resonate with both worlds. I will keep his family in my prayers.

Ms. Tami Charles, Ms. Nikki Grimes and Mr. Floyd Cooper in 2019

Ecclesiastes 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Here I am standing in front of a DMX wall mural with my children.

To an outsider, it’s a group of people standing in front of a wall mural; but the insiders know, the the wall mural is relevant to the people and the time.

When DMX died in April of this year, many of the children spoke about it in class. After all, we do live in the Bronx and associate ourselves with Black Culture. They spoke about his death in a reminiscent way. Which I knew, was a way for them express their parents grief. I mean, do they really know who he is?

I am not sure, but because of the times they could relate.

They were finishing up Sounder by William H. Armstrong which, if you don’t know have many themes: death, life, survival of the Black man, and the Bible just to name a few.

COVID, George Floyd’s death, protest of last summer and returning to school made the children more aware of the times and the injustices and inequalities that exist in America, specifically, New York. DMX’s death added to the conversation.

Timing is everything. While walking to school, I saw the graffiti artist, Andaluz and his team setting up and asked about their project. Then asked if my students could come later on and witness the painting. To which they said yes.

After getting an okay from my Principal, they got to meet Andaluz, the graffiti artist painting the mural, and also got to interview the other artist and reporters were were on site. A month later, after the painting, we returned and talked about the art. The first question one student asked was- what does it say near his head?

Ecclesiastes 3.

What does that mean?

It’s a book in the Bible. That part talks about time and season and how everything has a purpose under heaven. What does this remind you of?

Sounder?

Yup.

We stood there for a while in silence.

Ms. Hurley, there are a lot of candles here now.

I know. I think that is a way some people remember those who passed on.

Oh.