Fred Rogers

What Mr. Rogers' Quiet Neighborhood Can Teach Us About Our Loud and Busy Lives


Fred Rogers began the episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood just like he’d done a hundred times before, “by putting on his cardigan and buttoning it up.” Only this time, according to Hedda Sharapan, a producer and actor who was often involved with the show, something wasn’t right. “He had started at the wrong buttonhole; he was one button off.” The crew expected Fred to start over. Instead, He gave Sharapan a look and kept on, ad libbing an explanation to his children audience just “how easy it is to make mistakes” and then spent the extra time showing them how to correct it (pg, 193).

Any other show would have snubbed the first take and instantly recorded a second. Not so with Mr. Rogers. He understood that mistakes were a huge part of life, that they were essential to life, and that his young audience needed understand that. So embraced the silly mistake and used it as a teachable moment, because he cared deeply about children, and because he knew exactly what they needed most.

After years of training, researching and observing young children in the classroom and in life, and after studying and listening to them and their stories and thoughts, Rogers become a master teacher who cared deeply for the holistic development of children. They became his chief concern. More than money, more than fame, more than job security, Fred Rogers cared about his children audience.

Which is why, in contrast to his competition, Mr. Rogers’ show was slow, even crawling at times, because he knew that was what his young audience needed.

“Rogers’s embrace of reality also included breaking one of the established rules of television, a prohibition against footage that is essentially empty. While Sesame Street used fast pacing and quick-cut technique to excite and engage their viewers and keep them glued to the screen, Fred Rogers deliberately headed in the opposite direction, creating his own quiet, slow-paced, thoughtful world, which led to real learning in his view” (pg, 194).

Fred Rogers believed children were entertained enough. That instead of another fast-paced tv show that kept children distracted, what they needed was time.

“He really was interested in the child as a developing person” Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, which is why Rogers feared constant entertainment; it would engage his audience but weaken their minds. And if they had a weak mind, they would not fully grasp who they were, what they were, and how they thought.

“Our job in life,” Rogers believed, “is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is - that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside which is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness, and to provide ways of developing its expression (pg 237).

For Mr. Roger, in order for children to discover their uniqueness, they needed silence, time, and space. Silence so that they could hear themselves think, time to consider those thoughts, then space to work them out, to fail, and then to try again. They need opportunities to be human, and they needed adults to model humanity for them, to teach them, and to encourage them that life can be hard but that we can always work to correct it. Even when it’s something as simply as a missing a buttonhole.

“One of the major goals of education,” Mr. Rogers believed, “must be to help students discover a greater awareness of their own unique selves, in order to increase their feelings of personal worth, responsibility, and freedom” (pg 328).

In contrast, classrooms, living rooms, and car rides that fill the silence with gimmicks, screens, and distractions leave little room for such self-reflection and no time for imagination.

“Fred Rogers lived out the conundrum of modern life: embracing technology and using it in imaginative ways to benefit children, while rejecting the dehumanizing aspects of complex technological advancement” (pg 80).

For our children’s sake, for our future’s sake, embrace the silence, fight for the quiet, and allow time and space for children to think, make mistakes, and try again. It’s what Mr. Rogers would do. And he was the master of a pretty amazing neighborhood.

But so can we.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Parenting : Living

Francois Clemmons : becoming Mr. Rogers' Neighbor


Officer Clemmons was one of the first reccuring black characters in a children's tv program, but initially, actor Francois Clemmons was reluctant to take the role because he had grown up in the late 60's white America, and for him, cops were not people to be trusted, or imitated. But when Fred Rogers started talking about the "children needing helpers and the positive influence {he} could have on young children," Francois decided to take the role.

He then went on to play officer Clemmons for the next thirty years.

Here is the full episode. The scene with Fred and Officer Clemmons starts at 5:54 and runs till 10:15. It's worth the watch.

What I love about this scene is that Fred Rogers, with such acute purpose, is breaking down the social and racial barriers that so many white Americans of his time worked so hard to keep, that the African American people were nothing like white America and should therefore be forever segregated.

So Fred Rogers asks Officer Clemmons to sing, giving him skill and beauty and craft, something that didn't fit into the single story of who and what black America was.

Then he invites him to sit by the pool with him - a taboo for many white Americans. And when they've finished, Fred Rogers washes Officer Clemmons' feet, showing humility and honor to a black man in a way that aggressively (yet gently) contradicted the images and popular opinions of the day - white's serving blacks, are you kidding!?

Lastly, he softly asks, "Did you ever take a bath in a little pool like this, when you were a boy?"

"I sure did," Officer Clemmons responds. And this is perhaps my favorite part because suddenly, Officer Clemmons, a black man who was fully and completely different, is suddenly relatable, he's suddenly a child who cooled off in a plastic pool on hot summer days, just like the white kids. Suddenly, all the kids and parents all across American, no matter their color, their religion, or their age had something in common with Officer Clemmons. Suddenly, and subtley, Officer Clemmons is more than a simple stereotype, he's human. 

"To say that he didn't know what he was doing, or that he accidentely stumbled into integration or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mr. Rogers." 

There are many ways to say, "I love you" Office Clemmons sang, but for Fred Rogers they all boiled down to one: seeing and treating people with dignity, not matter how they looked or talked or lived. He just loved them. 

And he encouraged us to do the same.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Mr. Rogers and the Power of Persuasion  :  The History of Mr. Rogers Sweaters