The Enduring Message of Mr. Rogers

I’ve been reading and rereading Jonathan Kozol lately and have been saddened at how harsh a world many kids are growing up in — and school is often harsh as well, pushing kids relentlessly regardless of ability. Somehow, a group of reformers has decided that a good education requires unhappiness, stress, and anxiety.

Kozol spent time with Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) and recalls that experience in his writing, most recently in the upcoming Fire in the Ashes. In my mind, I see the two of them, with a dash of John Dewey, as moral benchmarks: am I doing what needs to be done for all children? It’s a question that haunts me each time I hear about more kids and more facts being crammed into a grade level or classroom. Yes, it’s one thing to agree that it’s awful, but what am I doing about it?

According to The Wrap, PBS hired John D. Boswell to make an autotuned mashup of Rogers. Frankly, there’s a wide-eyed moment in the chorus that is a little bit freaky, but what a timeless example of kindness and deep understanding of how children tick — and what an important gentle male role model. (I was at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire two weekends ago, and I saw this same male gentleness, this absolute focus on children and respect for their thinking.)

Take a look — and more importantly, a listen. Is this a message our preschool and primary children are hearing from us? That imagination is wonderful? Do we ask them, “Do you ever imagine things? … Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?” Do we tell them, “It’s good to be curious”?

If not, why? And as educators who say we are committed to this kind of development in children, what are we doing beyond our building walls to convince/combat/coerce “reformers” and corporate entities to see how important this kind of experience is for kids — the kind of experience they would want for their children?

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