Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers!

20 Mar
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came of (pre-school) age with the first generation of children’s television. My college graduating class recognized the importance of this evolution by granting an honorary degree to Joan Ganz Cooney, the creator of Sesame Street. Sesame Street debuted in 1969, and we all discussed its lasting effect on our then-four year old minds. As we grew, so too did children’s television. We learned to read with The Electric Company and learned to explore with Zoom.

But, in addition to humming “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” we often crooned “Would you be my neighbor?” to our friends.

The inimitable Mr. Rogers, whose Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhooddebuted in 1968 and ran until 2001, marked us all in ways we probably couldn’t enumerate at the time. I think of Fred Rogers when I change from my street shoes to my slippers or don a cardigan upon entering the house; when I play with or see hand puppets; when I talk to Culture Sprout about cooperating.

Long before a little book told us that “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten,” we had learned it from Mr. Rogers. He taught us that it was okay to be exactly who we are, that our differences make us special. He talked about difficult emotions like grief, jealousy, and fear. He understood that being a child isn’t always easy or fun. He told us every day that we were special and that he liked us just  because.

As a child, of course, I watched for the puppets, the fish, and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.  Eventually, I outgrew Mr. Rogers and lost track of how, if at all, the show evolved to incorporate the technologies that have changed childhood.  I never outgrew his lessons of tolerance, kindness, and neighborliness.

Hand-made sweater worn by Fred Rogers, on disp...

Today, there are dozens of shows geared towards children.  PBS now has a block of kids’ shows and there are several cable networks devoted to programming for children.  Other networks like Animal Planet, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel have a variety of educational and purely entertaining shows for kids.

We contemporary parents pride ourselves on limiting our children’s television time because we want to safeguard them from too much advertising.  I think, however, we limit them so that we don’t have to sort through the incredible amount of dreck that parades itself as “children’s television.” We don’t want to insult our children’s intelligence, but we also don’t want to have them watch garbage.

Television was much simpler when Mr. Rogers greeted us after pre-school each day. We had fewer choices and longer attention spans. Mr. Rogers preferred it that way.  As he told filmmaker Benjamin Wagner, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” Indeed.

Recent research has shown that people who can focus on one thing at a time are much happier than those who cannot, or do not. Other research has shown that we are more productive when we are more focused. In a world where focus is increasingly important and ever-less possbile (how many times did you check your email/voicemail/Twitter/Facebook while you read this 650 word post?), Mr. Rogers’ lessons of simplicity and depth have deep resonance.  Take a minute to listen.

*Benjamin Wagner’s documentary Mr. Rogers & Me premieres this evening on some PBS stations and on iTunes. With any luck I’ll be able to review it here soon!

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3 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers!”

  1. Colleen March 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    The fondness I have in my heart for Mr. Rogers is immeasurable. My best memories of pre-school age are being at my Grandma’s watching after coming home from school with my lunch on a TV tray. Loved everything about that show and Sesame Street, Electric Company, Zoom. Beautiful memories….thanks for helping me think ’em today!

    • Culture Bean March 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      Thanks for reading! You make me think of our t.v. trays, which were reserved for special televion/dinner events like The Wizard of Oz.

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  1. Fred Rogers – Style Icon – waldina - March 20, 2012

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