The Legacy of Mister Rogers

Cue the memory:

I stare at the television screen at this simple-mannered man. He uses his puppets around a set that is supposed to look like a home and neighborhood. To be honest, I wanted to watch my action-packed funny cartoons, but this is what Mom would let me watch this morning before school. To my surprise, I am enthralled by what this man has to say. It is like he knows what I am feeling, and he is talking straight to my soul. My boredom is replaced with a feeling larger than what I could have imagined before watching this show. How can such a bland and unexcitable television show give such hope and self-worth to the soul of a seemingly insignificant child? To soften the heart of such a hard-hearted child, such as myself, is almost a miracle. The power of this simple TV show is unheard of.

This flashback comes from my memories and feelings I remember as a child. Certainly, this entertaining show must have had a wholesome and significant impact on countless millions of children as it had on me. It was more than entertainment, though. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood brought genuine dialogue, meaningful songs, and a troupe of diverse individuals into the living rooms of joyful young viewers across America. It also doled out encouragement and good moral counsel to children from all socio-economic backgrounds. With help from the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), Mister Rogers created this friendly “neighborhood,” so-to-speak, and used it to impart invaluable lessons relating to the value of self, feelings, and relationships among his viewers.

The Man Behind the Neighborhood

Mister Rogers was a multifaceted man with a big heart. A young Mister Rogers came into the media industry with the goal of producing a wholesome and uplifting television program for children. Something, he believed, was sorely lacking in the late 1960s. He started his programming career as a co-producer, puppeteer, and organist on a television show called The Children’s Corner from 1954 to 1962. Later, in the spring of 1966, Mister Rogers launched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Prior to his death, he remained the original creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s 895 episodes that aired on PBS during his lifetime. In addition, he was the puppeteer and the musical composer for all of the children’s songs on the show.

For a time the show was produced on a shoe-string budget. Until, one day, when Mister Rogers decided to pack up his passion for kids and his fierce advocacy for children’s programming and travel to Capitol Hill. He was such a strong, determined advocate for his show that he personally appeared and addressed a Senate subcommittee which was considering drastic funding cuts to public television. Senator John Pastore was presiding over the proceedings and was considered by many in the room to be a staunch supporter for cutting public television budgets throughout the two-day hearing. However, after witnessing Mister Rogers’ sincere humility and passion for public broadcasting first hand, Senator Pastore’s heart was softened and Mister Rogers was granted a yearly budget of $20 million immediately following his informal speech.

Below is a must-watch clip of Mister Rogers’ heartfelt plea for more public funding before a sub-committee of Congress.

Copyrighted PBS

Each Individual is Valued

One of the greatest lessons, I believe, that Mr. Rogers taught through his broadcasts was in helping us to recognize our own self-worth. Children are often times insecure about who they are and wonder whether they are “good enough.” Children oftentimes observe those around them, such as their friends or popular figures in the media, and, afterwards, walk away feeling as though they need to dress just like that popular sports figure or act just like that TV star if they want to “fit” into society or hope to be accepted by the group. Mister Rogers helped these children navigate their way through and around this stereotypical social dilemma by coming to terms with who they are, not what they think they should be. By using his signature catchphrase,  “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are,” he built up their collective confidence and self-worth.

Feelings are Manageable

Another significant message from Mister Rogers had to do with the importance of feelings. Feelings, especially negative ones, can be challenging for children of any age to cope with. We struggle to react in a proper way in response to our emotions. This issue of coping is especially prevalent among children. Mister Rogers saw this prevalent issue among children and has made an effort to teach coping skills. Through his many stories and songs, he taught that it’s normal to have an array of feelings and that it is possible to manage them. Mister Rogers has said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” He taught us that we shouldn’t be shy or scared of opening up about our feelings with those we trust and love. As we talk about our emotions, we cope with them better. At the same time, these loved ones will stand by our side during these difficult times. Mister Rogers has taught us that it is ok to be vulnerable and that we won’t be looked down for it.

Developing Relationships with People

On top of teaching children about self-worth and mastering their feelings, Mister Rogers taught the importance of tolerance and equality in an era of rampant inequality. During most of the production period for Mister Rogers Neighborhood, the message about racial inequality was finally moving to the forefront of local, state, and national politics in the United States. In the 1960s, racism was a primary cause of social injustices and the cultural separation of  the “blacks” and the “whites.” Amid this political chaos, Mister Rogers began teaching his young viewers about tolerance, unconditional love and developing friendly relationships with everyone they chanced to meet — no matter what his or her skin color may be. In 1969, at the height of the civil rights movement, Mister Rogers broadcasted an episode where he was sharing a wading pool with one of the neighborhood’s police officers, Officer Clemmons, an African-American man. This clip was considered highly controversial, but Mister Rogers was not afraid to push the social boundaries to demonstrate the importance of tolerance and equality. He showed his gratitude and appreciation for all kinds of people who society was labeling as “different” or unique. To bring this message home, he would ask the children, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Inviting each boy and girl, no matter who he or she was, to be his personal friend and a special part of his community.

Mister Rogers will never be Forgotten

Mister Rogers has had a lasting positive impact on American society.  He taught wholesome values that will be cherished forever by anyone fortunate enough to have heard his message He taught us about things that matter most in this world: kindness and civility. He is an enduring reminder of the goodness that can be portrayed through media outlets, especially in a world where we seem to be turning away from such values.

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