Reprint from the Winter, 1998 issue of
SKOLE, the Journal of Alternative Education.
Bob Kastelic has been a classroom teacher and is now a professor of education. He has sent us several articles reflecting his thoughts about child-rearing, learning, and just being human in the world. Here are two that offer more food for thought:
by Robert L. Kastelic, Ed.D.
During the formulative years of one to six years old, many children watch "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" on television. My first encounter with Fred was as a teenager in the mid-1960's. I came home from school one day and my youngest brother was watching the show. I observed the show for about 3 or 4 minutes and then asked my mom why she allowed my brother to watch such a show. Of course, at the time, I did not have any idea what I was really talking about. Nor did I realize the positive impact that Mr. Rogers was already having on generations of children across the United States. I was acting out teenage behavior. Since that time, I have done my homework. I have worked to clarify my perceptions, investigated some more aspects of the program, and found some amazing results by changing my thinking. In short, I was missing a large part of the show because, I needed more information. Many of us are caught in this kind of perceptual quagmire and what we need is, more information. We may also need some space and time to digest the information into developing some order and sense.

My beginning level of understanding began when I heard little kids ask adults to be quiet when Mr. Rogers came on the television. They would pull up their pillows and blankets and get comfortable ready to enjoy the next slice of time with their television friend. Much has been said with a snicker about Mr. Rogers but, there seems to be a deep-seated quality that exists with the show that generations of kids find to be a special part of their day. This article is an opportunity to examine the show in order to expand one's perception about what I perceive to be one of the slickest head trips on television. Of course, all evaluation begins with perception.

The Neighborhood
When you arrive as the viewer at Mr. Rogers' television house you are included. Most television is exclusive, but with Rogers you are included in all of the activities. From the moment he enters the door your curiosity is stimulated. Seldom, does he enter the house without bringing something along with him. This is a very smooth move. If you don't think so, try this move with a room full of kids. Watch what happens without any prompting. You will be confronted with statements such as, "What'cha got? Huh? What's that ?" and on, and on. You will capture the children's full attention in seconds.

There is also a lot of implicit and explicit order in the performance of Rogers. Beginning at the point where he hangs up his jacket in the closet, to changing his shoes, to feeding his fish, his tasks are done in a deliberate and responsible manner. Few programs on television make clear the message of appropriate behavior in the manner that Mr. Rogers does while in the neighborhood. Many of the basic needs are met in this 'hood. Belonging and love, freedom, fun and enjoyment, power and empowerment all are demonstrated in this curriculum. You always get the direct impression that you belong here and are never reprimanded for having missed any of the sessions. It's sort of a television version of unconditional love. The viewer is continually empowered as Rogers works to talk with the child rather than, at them.

A plethora of songs written by Mr. Rogers communicate to children how to deal with issues that are important to them. From, "Your Body's Fancy," to other neighborhood topics the lyrics are clever and the tunes are easy to learn. The show presents one of the few neighborhoods today that we can all feel safe in. Actually, when was the last time that you called someone Mister, and intended it with respect, in your neighborhood? Also, it's one of the few households that has a male figurehead available during the day.
Land of Make Believe
The Neighborhood program also promotes a significant amount of emphasis in the imagination of children. Daily trips with specific themes to The Land of Make Believe, are looked forward to with pleasure by many children. The toy trolley signals an adventure in imagination is underway. Once viewers have arrived in the alternative neighborhood we are treated to an array of friends. These are quite a special selection of friends too. At times it looks like a Who's Who in the social development stages of real life. While The Land of Make Believe is fictional, there are a variety of personality profiles represented there. Played out in puppet form the characters take on personalities that many children might identify with in real life. For example,there's a shy bashful kitten that everyone looks out for. And educated and curious X, the owl. There is Lady Fairchild, who acts nothing like a fair child. There is a royal family consisting of King Friday, his wife, and his son, Prince Tuesday. There are always people coming and going in this land. A loyal dog named Bob who is part dog and part human and Lady Aberleen are actors. Challenging topics of controversy and opinion take place in this land and Mr. Rogers always meets us on our return with questions that help viewers to think about what happened and what might occur in the following episode.
Field trips and Friends
For a variety of circumstances many children are bound to the house for the day. Field trips may be out of the question for some kids unless you watch Mr. Rogers. Actually, the most interesting part of many of the shows are the field trips. Fred has taken us to places that we might never go to but we are fascinated with knowing more about. As viewers, you might go to a pretzel factory, a farm or a music store. There's always someplace interest-ing to investigate. One field trip went to a company that published books and with the author showed and explained how his book was being printed.
Rogers also presents field trips that are intended to reduce children's fears. On one show he addressed the concerns about the first day at school. Many children will be riding the school bus for the first time and the program addressed the fears and concerns with going to school and riding the bus. So, Fred and a camera crew demonstrated how children get on the bus and talk to the driver. Big concerns, if you are 5 or 6 years old. It's scary leaving your mom at the bus stop and driving off with a bus full of other kids, who are also scared. Other informative programs which had guest friends have included, but not been limited to, YoYo Ma, Winton Marsalis, sports figures, and authors. There is a cultural event of sorts taking place at various times on the show.
Dealing with Problems and Learning Tasks
Mr. Rogers is no wimp when it comes to dealing with social issues. He approaches pressing problems such as divorce, war, death, disabilities, and fighting. He has presented the issues surrounding the buildup of nuclear arms in a continuing series of programs. Another series of programs, dealt with peer pressure and what it means to be on a team. On an everyday household level he has modeled cleaning up, taking care of things, writing lists of things to do and the responsibility of feeding the fish.
For many children the kitchen is a wonderful place filled with delightful smells, good food and warm conversation. However, for some children the kitchen is off limits. It's a place where only adults are allowed to perform and serve. But, what can be more emancipating then to learn how to get around the kitchen? Fred models how to work in a responsible manner. Fred models using kitchen tools in the correct and safe way. He returns things back to where he found them and makes this obvious to viewers. Other tasks are equally perceived as valuable in a child's life. For exam-ple, learning how to tie your own shoes [especially important before velcro straps]. Learning to snap your fingers may not be a big deal now but, when you are 5 or 6 it may mean moving up the social ladder. Or, how about learning to whistle and of course, saying big grown-up words. All of these concerns and more are addressed by Mr. Rogers during daily television sessions.
Affective versus Cognitive Development
This program is not a Sesame Street-styled show. It should not be confused with other children's shows that promote repetitive tasks and quick-paced, action-packed events happening in a se-quence. This show deals with a much different agenda. While other childrens' shows may deal with the cognitive development of the viewers, this program deals with the affective domain. The Mr. Rogers Neighborhood program might be considered by some as a self esteem shot in the arm. While other programs may place emphasis on presenting and learning the alphabet or numbers, this program places emphasis on being in control of one's feelings and learning how to live appropriately in the complex world we live in.
"I like you just the way you are. There's only one of you and there will never be another one of you. You are very special, just the way you are." These are often heard statements spoken by Mr. Rogers. When was the last time someone told you that they liked you just the way you are?
In the Psychology and Teacher Education classes I teach I frequently use the Neighborhood programs and Fred Rogers as examples of the significance of the value imprint period 0-6 years old. While the program may not be suitable for all learners it may provide some good ideas to begin setting up a suitable learning format.
We all could learn a lot from Fred Rogers. Not to be misunderstood, I am not intending to promote the watching of more television. However, television just happens to be the democratic vehicle by which we all know of Mr. Rogers and get to view his work on a regular basis. There are not too many quality educational shows that have been on television for over twenty years.We also might learn about getting our basic needs met in appropriate ways, as well as, how to assist children in getting their needs met too. Parents can learn what is important to kids and what are some of the normal growing up concerns children are having. Also, teachers could learn the value of classroom pacing from the show.
In an age where we are short on role models for our children, Mr. Rogers is sensitive, caring, creative, and intelligent. What better role model could we want? And, not only a role model for our children. Adults might learn something about role modeling from Mr. Rogers. We could all learn how to be better neighbors, have better manners, be in control of our feelings. We also might learn to like each other, just the way we are.
Mister Rogers dies at 74
PITTSBURGH (Feb. 27) - Fred Rogers, who gently invited millions of children to be his neighbor as host of the public television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" for more than 30 years, died of cancer early Thursday. He was 74.
Rogers died at his Pittsburgh home, said family spokesman David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the show. Rogers had been diagnosed with stomach cancer sometime after the holidays, Newell said.
"He was so genuinely, genuinely kind, a wonderful person," Newell said. "His mission was to work with families and children for television. ... That was his passion, his mission, and he did it from day one."
From 1968 to 2000, Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, produced the show at Pittsburgh public television station WQED. The final new episode, which was taped in December 2000, aired in August 2001, though PBS affiliates continued to air back episodes.
Rogers composed his own songs for the show and began each episode in a set made to look like a comfortable living room, singing, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood," as he donned sneakers and a zip-up cardigan.
"I have really never considered myself a TV star," Rogers said in a 1995 interview. "I always thought I was a neighbor who just came in for a visit."
His message remained simple: telling his viewers to love themselves and others. On each show, he would take his audience on a magical trolley ride into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where his puppet creations would interact with each other and adults.
Rogers did much of the puppet work and voices himself. He also studied early childhood development at the University of Pittsburgh and consulted with an expert there over the years.
"He was certainly a perfectionist. There was a lot more to Fred than I think many of us saw," said Joe Negri, a guitarist who on the show played the royal handyman in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and owner of "Negri's Music Shop."
Negri said Rogers refused to accept shoddy ad-libbing by guests who may have thought they could slack off during a kid's show.
But Rogers could also enjoy taping as if he were a child himself, Negri recalled. Once, he said, the two of them fell into laughter because of the difficulty they had putting up a tent on the show.
Rogers taught children how to share, deal with anger and even why they shouldn't fear the bathtub by assuring them they'll never go down the drain.
During the Persian Gulf War, Rogers told youngsters that "all children shall be well taken care of in this neighborhood and beyond - in times of war and in times of peace," and he asked parents to promise their children they would always be safe.
"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility," he said in 1994. "It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.'"
"Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
Rogers came out of broadcasting retirement last year to record public service announcements for the Public Broadcasting Service telling parents how to help their children deal with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"If they see the tragedy replayed on television, they might think it's happening at that moment," he said.
Rogers' show won four Emmy Awards, plus one for lifetime achievement. He was given a George Foster Peabody Award in 1993, "in recognition of 25 years of beautiful days in the neighborhood."
At a ceremony marking the show's 25th anniversary that year, Rogers said, "It's not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It's what resides inside."
The show's ratings peaked in 1985-86 when about 8 percent of all U.S. households with televisions tuned in. By the 1999-2000 season, viewership had dropped to about 2.7 percent, or 3.6 million people.
As other children's programming opted for slick action cartoons, Rogers stayed the same and stuck to his soothing message.
Off the set, Rogers was much like his television persona. He swam daily, read voraciously and listened to Beethoven. He once volunteered at a state prison in Pittsburgh and helped set up a playroom there for children visiting their parents.
One of Rogers' red sweaters hangs in the Smithsonian Institution.
Rogers was born in Latrobe, 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Early in his career, Rogers was an unseen puppeteer in "The Children's Corner," a local show he helped launch at WQED in 1954. In seven years of unscripted, live television, he developed many of the puppets used in his later show, including King Friday XIII and Curious X the Owl.
He was ordained in 1963 with a charge to continue his work with children and families through television. That same year, Rogers accepted an offer to develop "Misterogers," his own 15-minute show, for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
He brought the show back to Pittsburgh in 1966, incorporating segments of the CBC show into a new series distributed by the Eastern Educational Network to cities including Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
In 1968, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" began distribution across the country through National Educational Television, which later became the Public Broadcasting Service.
Rogers' gentle manner was the butt of some comedians. Eddie Murphy parodied him on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1980s with his "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," a routine Rogers found funny and affectionate.
Rogers is survived by his wife, Joanne, a concert pianist; two sons; and two grandsons.
02/27/03 09:14 EST
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