March 20th is “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day. Maybe that’s why the NY Times featured a story about Fred Rogers and his legacy (he died seven years ago in February). There is so much wrapped up in this article about Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.
First, the bad news: PBS is no longer distributing Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to TV stations. I think this is a terrible loss and goes quite beyond a nostalgic sadness (which I will say more about below).
But the good news is that they’ve made his shows available through the PBS website. And that works find as long as you have internet access. It’s not at all good for those children who don’t, however.
I was a child when Mr. Rogers as well as Sesame Street got their starts on television. But we didn’t watch TV much as children and my first awareness of him was probably in 3rd or 4th grade when it was “the thing” to make fun of the way he talked.
My boys grew up with him, though. Their favorite lullaby tape was a collection of songs from the show. And as young men today, they still remember Mr. Rogers.
Now, I did sometime watch Captain Kangaroo as a child, and I remember him too. But not for the same reasons. Despite what the article implies, Mr. Rogers falls nowhere in the same league as Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, or Howdy Doody. They were all find entertainers; they were all pioneers in the field of children’s television.
But Mr. Rogers was a genius. He had a remarkable education including graduate work in child development. He understood children deeply and could put his head and heart inside their world, a world which is so radically different from an adult’s. He had children in mind first and a TV show second.
In today’s world, when children are being rushed and misunderstood as never before, we need Fred Rogers in their worlds.
I encourage you, if you are not familiar with Fred Rogers’ work, to watch his TV shows with or without your children. Read his books; many are written for parents and teachers. Purchase his books for children. My children negotiated potty training, making friends, moving, and family death’s with Mr. Rogers caring help.
And maybe we’ll see each other in Pennsylvania on day at the Fred Roger Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. I’m awfully glad others are carrying on his work.
See you around, Neighbor!