As we begin to look forward towards Lent, a quick look back at someone whose intentional life teachings can help us reconnect with God as innocently and fully as a child. Creighton and CCSJ alum, Ben McCann, reflecting on the Anniversary of Fred Rogers’ death (February 27th), invites us to use the lessons of Mr. Rogers as a guide towards a more conscious and loving community, not only through teaching our children about caring for our world, but through an awareness of ourselves as well.
My parents did not allow me to watch “commercial television” as a child. Basically, I watched PBS or watched nothing at all. Sure, that means I have no idea what my peers are talking about when “Hey, Arnold” is brought up in conversation (something that happens more often than I would think, but hey, what do I know, I’ve never seen it), but it means that shows like “Reading Rainbow,” “Wishbone,” “Arthur,” and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” were all that I watched as a kid. It turns out that my mom just didn’t want me to be exposed to all the advertising on TV because she didn’t want “hard drive space” in my brain taken up by a bunch of ad jingles and slogans (She still remembers some from her childhood, so it’s not a crazy idea at all). What I didn’t appreciate until years afterward were the incredible example and teachings of Fred Rogers that made up a large portion of my childhood. Even though he died 11 years ago, Fred Rogers and his passion for educating children is a wealth of knowledge for us today.
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” –Fred Rogers, The World According to Mr. Rogers
Mr. Rogers devoted his life to children and trying to see that educational programming was available to them. On his show, Mr. Rogers encouraged children to be curious and grow ideas in “the garden of your mind.” He encouraged his viewers to go outside their comfort zone and learn about new things. Imagination and “The Land of Make-Believe” are key parts of what it means to be a kid, and Fred Rogers encouraged his viewers to use their imaginations and be creative. One of the central ideas that Mr. Rogers presented was caring for one another. He encouraged viewers to explore their neighborhood and know their neighbors. Community, though he didn’t call it that, was an incredibly important idea for Mr. Rogers. He taught us to accept people for who they are and meet them where they are. Kindness and helping someone who needs it comes naturally when we engage each other as a neighbor. He was teaching kids the importance of recognizing what binds us together while also valuing what makes us different. The importance, especially for a child, of being accepted as the individual each one of us is was not lost on Mr. Rogers.
As it turns out, the importance of early childhood education is being talked about more and more. Fred Rogers knew just how important it was even as far back as 1969 when he defended funding PBS in front of the US Senate. His passion for educating children is what lead him to record 895 episodes of his show, which aired from 1968-2001. He, much like my own mother, was concerned about what children were exposed to on TV. Mr. Rogers thought that the drama and violence on TV was not what kids needed. What they needed was seeing the drama about people working out their anger and how to deal with their feelings.
What if more people thought this way? What if Fred Rogers was not the exception, but the norm? If we truly let what was in the best interest of our children dictate what was on TV, I can’t help but think that the US population as a whole would be more caring, less violent, and more in touch with their emotions and how to deal with them. What if more programming dealt with anger in a way that teaches kids that it is hard to talk about anger and to not lash out in a physically violent way, but that they can control how they react (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTs73qO5ehk)?
The importance of educating our children in a way that nudges them and leads them to be more kind, more creative, and valued just as they are cannot be over stated. I recently watched a Ted Talk that stresses the importance of educating children and how it could prevent people from ending up on death row (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYzrdn7YLCM).
What if Mr. Rogers and his vision for a caring community and service of one another were the reality? Well, it sure won’t be unless we seriously make it a priority. But it was the priority of Fred Rogers’ life to educate children and help them be the very best versions of themselves that they could be.
Class of 2012
College of Arts and Sciences
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