After the Visit to the Bronx Museum

Before leaving the Bronx Museum, the museum educator said,

Your students are my last group for the summer. They are such a great group. They are unlike other students I worked with in the Bronx. I have had students who showed zero interest in art. People assume I have fun and it’s easy-going as an artist here but working with youth is getting more difficult.

She walked us to the elevator and added,

The Bronx Museum is going through a fight about space since the building didn’t really belong to them. I’ve been her for a long time but I am not sure what is going to happen.

Oh, that’s going on here too!?

Yep.

Here, please, lastly, she gave me an evaluation sheet, fill this out for me.

Why do museums do that? Why do they ask the teachers to fill out evaluation forms as if the children are non-existent? If she would have asked my students to fill out an evaluation form, she would have gotten the whole truth.

On the way back to the school, I couldn’t help but think of how I would have lead my students through the Jamel Shabazz exhibit.

It was almost strange how her entire pedagogy was all-together off. My students were very interested in the material we came to see, because I taught them many lessons before we went. However, when we got there, the artist wasn’t at all engaging.

Instead of telling her much, I decided while on the way back to the school, I will conduct two restorative circles to hear their feedback then I will end the day with an art activity that the museum should have done.

I conducted two restorative circles. I turned the classroom into a museum exhibit.

The first assignment I completed with my students was with the teens. It was during this time, that I learned that some thought the show was boring and some were looking forward to actually meeting Jamal Shabazz. When I asked them how they would have showed the work, they mentioned that a video to see Shabazz speak would have been nice and even a zoom call with the artist for question and answer. They admitted that they didn’t see the connection between the pencil excise, the watercolor and the photographs.

(The educator told me she loved to just let children do art… “they are thinking about what they saw and somehow it would come out in their watercolor”…)

The second restorative circle was with the younger children. It began after their lunch period.

I gathered old photos from my photo albums and my darkroom days. I placed them on the wall and allowed the students to get as close to the photos as they wanted. I split them up into groups then the groups into pairs. Each student had a few minutes to draw a quick sketch of any image on the wall and when I told them to switch, each student had to give it to a friend who in turn looked for the image they drew.

During this exhibition, they laughed and talked about art. They asked questions and showed they were very capable of viewing art and engaging in conversation about the art itself.

I knew my students. They were unhappy, insulted I might add, that they went to the museum to see work by an artist they studied before hand and the museum educator was not equipped to engage in dialogue with them. I could have asked to give the tour myself but assumed she was well versed in the subject matter more than me. When I realized she wasn’t, I tried to give her pointers but she quickly placed paper and paint in from of them and told them to paint anything. All the while, telling me how worried she is about the program closing.

A 21st- Century connection between Art and the National Summit on Education

I found the connection between the National Summit on Education and the art at Utah’s museum of Art seasonable.

While at Utah’s Museum of Art, I came across a huge electrical wall panel created by Elias Sime from Ethiopia.

The plaque next to the ‘ Tightrope: Noiseless 1’ (it’s title) reads: Sime buys his materials at the Merkato In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the largest open- air market in Africa. It can take years for him to accumulate the necessary discarded computer parts to construct an individual work. In this series, Sime recognizes the uneasy balance between the advances made possible by technology and the impact those advances have had on humanity and the environment. Sime says, ” My work reclaims these machines in a tender way, as I am not in opposition to technology. It’s about how to balance it with “real” life. We’ve become off-balance. My title for my series of collages, “Tightrope,” has a double reaming, It’s about this equilibrium, but I also wanted it to evoke a string: if you pull it too tight, it will break.” 

The installation connected strongly with the keynote speakers at the conference. While looking at it, I had no questions, nor did it bring me peace. It was just about being in the moment while also thinking about the future.

Earlier that day, I sat in the Grand America Hotel and listened to Code.org founder Hadi Partovi, finance expert Tim Ranzetta and Professor of Applied Mathematics Dr. Steven Strogatz, map out critical skills for every 21st-Century student’s success.

Dr. Strogatz encouraged us to introduce our learners to Data Science which he said was the “modern version of statics, a fusion of many disciplines that give us opportunities touch every field.” Mr. Partovi pushed for us to teach finical literacy, especially to students in high school. As a true educator, he provided curriculum and even offered ways to teach others how to teach the topic. Tim Ranzetta also pushed technology – telling us that the vision of Code.org is that every student learn computer science.

The full video is posted on Youtube:

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 d├ęcor, 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.