Won't You Be My #EduNeighbor?: Why Fred Rogers Matters
Mr. Rogers holds a special place in the collective memory of most Americans. Being that the show ran from 1968-2001, the aforementioned statement is hardly hyperbole. Year in and year out, Fred Rogers was tasked with ever so calmly and caringly babysitting our nation's little ones as Mommy and/or Daddy received much needed reprieve (a fact and task that Fred Rogers hardly took lightly). Admittedly, I am bias. Fred Rogers is a Pittsburgh boy that reached international stardom. Needless to say, in my native Steel City, Mr. Rogers is celebrated with sainthood-like reverence. However, I'd argue that there is no more fitting a description for a man that raised a nation on kindness, acceptance, and neighborly love than "saintly".
Therefore, as one that kneels at the alter of Fred, allow me to evangelically re-introduce you to the man that entranced your young mind with the hanging of a cardigan and the changing of his shoes. Allow me to show you why he was an #Eduhero way ahead of his time that shouldn't be overlooked by the pedagogues of today:
1) He taught us to LOVE our students for who they are, not who we desire them to become:
Striving to accept our students for who they are suggests that it won't always be easy. In fact, at times it's downright hard. To do so we must first address, accept, and actively fight against our own prejudices and biases. No man was better at putting this thought into action than Fred Rogers. In fact, as an ordained Presbyterian minister, Mister Rogers was regularly called to castigate non-Christians and homosexuals for their "blasphemous" beliefs. Instead, he addressed them quite publicly and declared, "God loves you just the way you are."
2) He understood Growth Mindset long before it was en vogue:
Mister Rogers didn't merely preach learning from hardship and failure, he lived it! In fact, in 1969 a relatively unknown Fred Rogers faced a stark reality after only one year on TV; government funding of Public Television was almost surely going to be cut. Instead of doing what many of us would do in his circumstance and become a victim of misfortune, Mister Rogers believed that due to this hardship's public nature, it could be the very "impetus for (his program's) growth". Mister Rogers personally drove to Washington DC, passionately defended the need for programming like his show, and successfully warmed the hearts of calissed politicians to not only not cut the Public Television budget but to increase it from $9 million to $23 million! Mr. Rogers on Capitol Hill
3) He believed in the importance of Student Voice:
Mister Rogers understood that to address the whole child we must first give that child a voice. To do so was not a gimmick or ploy; to Fred Rogers it was the most sincere gift you could give a child. To help a child in understanding that their voice, their ideas, their feelings have REAL value is our calling as educators. Fred Rogers believed this. He once received the following letter from a visually-disabled 5 year old girl:
Dear Mister Rogers,
Please say when you are feeding your fish, because I worry about them. I can’t see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud.
From that point forward, Mister Rogers verbally announced the feeding of his fish on EVERY one of his shows because the voice and concerns of a little girl mattered.
4) He understood that playing and learning were not mutually exclusive:
We often think of the "gamification" of the classroom as a relatively modern innovation. However, Fred Rogers was stressing the importance of play way before it was the latest buzzword. In fact, Mister Rogers devoted countless programs, specials, and books to the topic of play and stressed the developmental importance of these opportunities for children of all ages. My personal favorite is a 400 page activity book written by Mister Rogers himself entitled Mister Rogers Plan and Play Book.
5) He understood that a successful teacher must first LOVE what they are doing:
Fred Rogers didn't spend 33 years in the industry to collect a paycheck. Every single day was devoted to his craft. The man literally kept his weight at a consistent 143 lbs. as a conversation piece to explain to young children that there is 1 letter in the word "I", 4 in "LOVE", and 3 in "YOU". Who does that?! But his passion was electrifying. So much so that adults of my generation tend to reminisce on watching his show as if they were reminiscing about a dear loved one. In fact, Esquire magazine once reported that while riding a subway train in New York City, Mister Rogers was spotted by adoring fans. For the remainder of his transport, he was serenaded with the entire train's best rendition of It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Fred Rogers loved hard and the world loved him back! A lesson every teacher can learn from.