December 17, 2008

Learning from Charlie Brown

Filed under: about me,education,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:34 am

OK, I am going to go completely off-topic…but I think I can pull it back in at the end.

Last night I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas for at least the 70th time (once a December since 1965, plus several repeats, VHS tapes,  and a DVD) . I can recite the entire dialog and knew the song, “Christmas Time is Here,” before the rest of the world ever heard it. I was one of those kids who was singing in the intro and during the tree sequence at the end of the show. I even got to shout “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!” in a San Francisco sound studio late one night, having no idea that the shouts of the six of us,  fellow church junior choir members,  would be used at the moment that makes millions of people smile and an animated Charlie Brown do a double-take at least once each Christmas season on TV.

It is a long story, some of which is documented in the book Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez wrote at the35th anniversary of the making of the show, a few months after Charles Schulz passed away. They messed up recounting the details of where our junior choir came from, but they did include portions of the letter I sent to Mr. Schulz… no matter. I just said all that to “prove” that I am not making this up.

What I noticed last night [here she goes—connecting back to the usual themes of this blog] was the community the Peanuts gang has. The absence of adults (except the wah-wah-wah voice of a school teacher in LATER specials) is a given in Peanuts. These kids do everything together: play baseball, fly kites (or not), learn about life, and even run their own Christmas play. We accept that. In the fantasy world of Charlie Brown and Lucy, kids have wisdom beyond their years and work together to respond to the needs of their own. Last night it was Charlie Brown’s need to see what Christmas is all about. Linus delivers his explanation from Luke’s gospel (no laugh track or audience sound afterward — just peaceful reverberation of silence). The gang follows Charlie Brown and decorates his tree. It is a world where kids fall down and pick each other up as they learn together and individually.

No, that is NOT the point of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it does make me wonder whether we can duplicate even a portion of what these kids have in our own classroom community by pulling the adults  several steps back and allowing the kids to support each other. The likelihood that this would turn to chaos among real kids is high, yet the “what if” is important. The Peanuts gang has complete ownership. They still dance when they are supposed to be rehearsing their nativity play and argue about eating snowflakes. But when the snowballs hit the fan, they make sure that everyone gets what he/she needs. It might be fun to challenge a class to create the same community. Heaven knows, they have all seen the show! If I were still in my elementary gifted classroom, I might try it one year. All I’d need is a recording of “nah-nah-nah” to play when things got out of hand.

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