A Very Good Book on a Good Neighbor

The Good Neighbor - 003

Upon looking at the humble man changing into an old cardigan and sneakers, singing children’s songs on a decidedly low-budget set, one would never know he came from a well-connected family. And one would never imagine that the modest figure who, as an adult, kept his weight at 143 pounds as almost an act of faith was one the boy so many teased as “Fat Freddy.” Yet, as readers of The Good Neighbor learn, both these aspects of his growing up had the notable influence on his persona of Mister Rogers. On the other hand, Mister Rogers and Fred were exactly one and the same. “What you see is what you get.” Readers of this thoughtful biography learn that, too. Remember, this is the man who told every child, “I like you just they way you are.”

 

Rogers, with his traditional values, may have seemed old-fashioned. However, as an educator, he was—if anything—ahead of his time. Psychologists and child-development experts were just understanding how critical a child’s early years are for both learning and cultivating emotional maturity and well-being. (One of these, Dr. Margaret McFarland, was remembered recently.)

 

“Human kindness will always make life better,” Mister Rogers is quoted in the book. Two of his most memorable episode are included:

  • His conversation with Jeff Erlanger, a boy who used a wheelchair to get around. (The two would reunite many years later.)
  • The wading pool “swim” with Officer Clemmons, a bold statement against segregation. At the end of the episode, Mister Rogers dries off the officer’s feet.

That last point is worth bearing, as it is reminiscent of the life of Jesus. The Good Neighbor goes into considerable detail, exploring Rogers’s religious life—his upbringing in a traditional Presbyterian family and his college work at the seminary, both of which would infuse Mister Rogers, both the man in the cardigan on TV and the real-life figure.

 

Another area in which Fred Rogers had a passion and talent is music. The reader of The Good Neighbor will learn about how he created—played and actually composed—music. The admiration Rogers had for musicians—and musicians had for him—was evident on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; these many memorable moments are revisited.

 

“Fearless authenticity” describes who Mister Rogers was, both on screen and in real life. “It’s you I like.”

 

Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley

Maxwell King, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018.
ISBN 1419727729
ISBN-13: 9781419727726

Grounded Planes Take Flight in Congo

Fantasy Planes in Congo

 

In this remarkable Telegraph photo essay, children in a bleak landscape have little but to play in, around, and on a series of abandoned jetliners. Evidently, these airplanes provide a flight of fancy, a respite, however fleeting. Many of these photos were in an earlier Daily Mail piece.

 

Toy and model airplanes have been part of my youthful fantasy. In fact, planes like the DC-8 shown, were those Space Age miracles that I flew on. Still in touch with my childhood self, these planes still evoke emotion.

 

In this portrayal, however, innocence has but all been lost.

 

A Half Century of Kindness and Acceptance. Looking Back to 1969 with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers

 

Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley

 

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Indeed, as anyone who checks their Facebook feed or watches the news probably knows, there is a lot of negativity out there, both in the media and in the world. Perhaps, that’s why last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a low-budget documentary of a low-budget show by a humble man resounded among so many people. “Love is at the root of everything,” said Fred Rogers. (Sometimes, he conveyed that through art and music.)

One year later, the need for Mister Rogers’s message continues to be as great. Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, comes another beautiful cinematic biography, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversaries of both Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, along with the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. We need to know there is goodness in the world. Nothing saintly. Nothing magical. Simply, be kind to one another, love your neighbor. The movie is beautifully made; the acting and cinematography are all top notch. (I also heartily recommend last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.) The anniversaries may be old, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is truly a movie for our time.

All along, Mister Rogers reached out not only to the children he adored, but also adults, with whom he was – and continues to be – a balm for the adult soul. To children and adults alike, he said, “Sometimes, you have to ask for help. And that’s okay.” To Fred, it was also about reconnecting to one’s childhood. “You were a child once, too.” (One is reminded of Janusz Korczak’s masterpiece, When I Am Little Again. So perhaps, like the Old Doctor, Mister Rogers is – a hero after all.

Although Mister Rogers conveyed his passion for social justice through his everyday acts of kindness, many fans will remember the 1969 episode,when he invited Francois Clemmons for a “dip” in his pool.

 

Also 50 years ago, as a champion for children, Fred Rogers was a champion of public television, the only “channel” he deemed suitable for his program.

 

And 50 years ago, another forward-thinking children’s show debuted: Sesame Street. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this program is not afraid to tackle important topics, still supporting families today. Topics also include autism and drug addiction – and, yes, feelings. Just as the Officer Clemmons episode broke ground in bridging racial segregation, Sesame Street, from the outset spoke to children in the inner city.

 

NYS State Museum - 123 Sesame Street

The Sesame Street set has been recreated at the New York State Museum.

Downtown Bridgetown - Cheerful School

The message of Sesame Street is universal, as this Bridgetown, Barbados, school attests.

 

Today, the reach of the program expands, now including Syrian children.

“Dear places who have seen this before…”

Santa Clarita poem - Jilli Spencer

 

“Can you tell me how… Can you tell me how you got up?” These are the anguished words of Jilli Spencer, a survivor of the November 14 shooting at her Santa Clarita, CA, high school. “It was finally us,” she says. We heard similar expressions combining disbelief with resigned acceptance at other schools? But is this normal?

 

In the 46 months of this year, according a CNN report, there have been 44 school shootings. Of these, 32 have been at schools serving students from kindergarten through grade 12.  Enough. Last year, Time magazine used this powerful word to honor the efforts of five students who survived the Parkland tragedy. They fought – and continue to fight – to prevent other children and parents having to endure their ordeal. Just this August, Time used the word… again.

enough-covers-time-magazine-ed-desk

The two victims – a girl, 15, and a boy, 14 – were not just people of tomorrow, they were people todayPeople magazine told the stories of Gracie and Dominic – and those who love them. Let us always remember the names of Gracie Meuhlberger and Dominic Blackwell.

Outside, it was a beautiful, sunny, and crisp day. Inside the school in which I was working, an dark announcement came over the school public-address system. “The shooter is in the G wing. He’s wearing a clown mask….” It was just a drill. Just a drill? is this now a normal part of the school day, like pledging allegiance to the flag or eating revolting food in the cafeteria? Sandy Hook Promise brought this point home in a searing PSA this September. Caution: Some readers may find the contents disturbing.

 

I love you, Mom.

Teaching Respect. Teaching Kindness

Frontline Holocaust Education

 

Judaism. Christianity. Islam. Central to all three Abrahamic faiths is love, especially others. From the book of Exodus: V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, And you shall love the stranger as yourself.

Congregants of all three faiths have recently been the victims of deadly hate attacks in what was supposed to be their sanctuary. A place of faith, of safety, of love.

Love comes naturally. It is what we are born with. The same can be said of altruism. Hate is something learned. And hate has been on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti Defamation League, and Simon Wiesenthal Center.

An insightful article from PBS Frontline explores how to teach about the evils of anti-Semitism in schools through Holocaust education. Moreover, Holocaust education is about fighting hate directed against all groups.

That piece depicts a project in which saplings from a chestnut tree have been planted at important locations throughout the U.S. And this was not just any tree. The chestnut in question was the one Anne Frank described in her diary as she peered out the window from her place of hiding. “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine,” wrote Anne Frank. “As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances might be.”

 

 

With Anti-Semitic Incidents in Schools on the Rise, Teachers Grapple With Holocaust Education