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.

Our Voice

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. day weekend, I felt super cold, super bless and super special.

I was super cold because it was super cold! I went to Amherst, Massachusetts to view Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards at the Eric Carle Museum and got caught in a terrible snow storm.

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I felt super blessed for many reasons…

  1. I missed my bus from Boston to Amherst and got to the museum after the event with Onawumi Jean Moss ended…but was just in time to see her!
  2. I really wanted to go to the museum for a while and went on the perfect weekend- (sometimes the cold and snow can be a good thing) not only did I get to view the very informative exhibit but Onawumi Jean Moss stayed at the museum almost three extra hours mentoring my sister and I! Which leads me to why I felt super special.

Okay, now I am beginning to think that  feeling blessed and feeling special are the same feelings…anyways…I felt this good feeling because my sister, April, knew how badly I wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum and when I told her I was going that weekend, she willingly accompanied me and did everything in her power to make sure I enjoyed myself…minus her trying to keep me from exploring cold Boston alone…that’s another funny story.

I also felt special because the education coordinator  at the museum, Courtney, heard about our long trip there and while Onawumi gave me some lesson plan ideas, she went into the museum shop and got me a free copy of In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson and Jerry Pinkney, which is one of the books Onawumi suggested I use in the classroom.

While we were all conversing,  Ms. Custard, an assistant principal at Ahmerst Reginal High School, came in the room to check on Onawumi and joined the very intimate conversation about race and education in America.

After the discussion, I viewed the amazing art work on the walls (the exhibition celebrated illustrators who won the Coretta Scott King Award. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the children’s book award. ) and  I realized I either owned a copy of the books or knew of the books before hand. However, some I did not have…such as….

Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis and George Ford – Most of the teachers in my school teach the children Fifty Nifty States which is a tune written by Ray Charles. This is a grand opportunity to introduce the Rhythm and Blues singer to the children.

I  purchased The Creation  by James Weldon Johnson and James E. Ransome at the museum. I did not know it was made into a children’s book. If you remember, I had read the poem at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. I shared it with the Little Flock (the children at my church) and the response was lovely.

I was surprised to see Jan Spivey Gilchrist and Eloise Greenfield’s Nathaniel Talking,  which is a poem my sisters and I memorized growing up, on the wall. This poem was in our school readers growing up. Our teachers skipped over the poem which made the poem even more exciting to read. We took the book home and memorized it…just so we could rap.

Most times it is very difficult to teach children about the lives of musicians without a children’s book which is why I plan to buy:

Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty, Frank Morrison and Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Jerry Pinkney and Bille Holiday’s God Bless the Child .

I should also purchase, Kadir Nelson’s We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball because I was never into sports so I am really horrible when it comes to teaching the history of sports……It just so happens that I have a little boy in my class to loves to talk about baseball since he lives right next to Yankee Stadium.

I also purchased, N. Joy and Nancy Devard’s The Secret Olivia Told Me at the museum. I always thought silhouette art was the bomb and so does my students!

Lastly, I want a copy of Benny Andrews’ Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see the same artist work in two different exhibits in two different cities for two different reasons. I learned about Benny Andrews at the Brooklyn Museum when I viewed, Soul of a Nation. When I saw his work at the Eric Carle museum, I had to double checked to see if it was the same person, which it is.

 

 

 

Living through Powerful Words

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Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the ‘I have a Dream Speech’, one of the most popular speeches throughout the world today delivered by someone who was never elected as a public official or a leader of a country, someone who was just like me, a common person, someone who dedicated their life to speaking out against injustice and putting himself in harm’s way for others. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and continues to inspire millions through his words. He is dead but even in death he remains alive.

I am not on Facebook anymore, but when I was on Facebook, I posted one of s my favorite quotes by Dr. King with a picture of my friend, Stacy and myself.

It reads:

“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers [nor sisters].  Our abundance has not brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of the spirit”. 

In Celebration of a Great Work

Along with the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center,  I am preparing for the long, historical, event-filled weekend (it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s day on Monday. Saturday is National Volunteer Day and to top things off President Obama will be sworn in for a second term).

For starters, tomorrow, Mary Mitchell will be hosting a celebration of Dr. King with the children by simply helping the children to understand the importance of what Dr. King did for the American people. I hope the children look at Dr. King as a man who did something they can all do- dedicate their time and love to their  community, state, and country and even the world. (Do you know Martin Luther King Jr. is the only lay person in American History to actually get a national holiday?)

Some, as children, learn about Dr. King really young but not all understand that he was not great because his name was King or because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but he was great because he did the work that God called him to do and put his entire heart into his work. If only more people would work more diligently, perhaps our communities would be a little better.

I was listening to an old recording of my deceased apostle, Bishop Goodwin, and he said: Paul told Timothy, stir up the gift that is in you…[if] you want the Victory, stir up the gift.”

In other words, whatever that is good, that God is calling you to do- do it and do it well. You may be a child and your duty may be to go to school. Don’t go to school and be a disappointment to your parents. Be the best student you can be…Whatever it is that you are on this earth to do- whatever that is good- do it and do it well.

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