In a conversation with our students a while ago, we discovered that most of them had never seen an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood." This amazing show aired for over 30 years as Fred Rogers lovingly spoke to children from his television home. He thoughtfully addressed innumerable topics such as going to the doctor, welcoming a new sibling, taking care of yourself and being a good friend. He encouraged imaginative, make-believe play while also providing his viewers with all kinds of true, accurate information about their world.
When I think of Mr. Rogers, I think of the perfect embodiment of the fruit of the spirit, gentleness, an attribute that is sorely lacking in our world today. Many people don’t know that Fred Rogers was actually an ordained minister who chose a children’s television show as the vehicle for his ministry. Although he may seem slow and deliberate and old-fashioned in our current fast-paced, loud society, he was an unfailing example of gentleness. His show was quiet, calm and well-planned, rich in vocabulary and concepts. He patiently used his media time to minister to the youngest among us, calming children's fears in our ever-more-frightening world. Each episode was meticulously crafted to encourage children to be kind, helpful, confident, creative and, above all, gentle.
Unfortunately, we are raising children in a world that is anything but gentle, as evidenced daily in society's
conversations and interactions. Our world has grown frightening for so many children as, at a very early age, they risk being exposed to every type of ugliness there is, over and over. I don't believe this generation's ugliness is really any different from that of previous generations, but it is more consistently placed in front of our children, usually on a global scale. In our current media age, there is almost no respite from the scary, overwhelming tragedies occurring in our neighborhoods and around the world.
In the classroom and in our homes, we strive to model gentleness to the children and to praise their gentle behavior and choices. This is a character trait that isn't demonstrated on a regular basis in society as a whole, but it can be taught and mastered with enough practice and consistency. There is a quote from Mr. Rogers that has recently surfaced on social networking sites, in the wake of tragedies such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings: "When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' " In today's world, not only can we encourage children to look for the helpers, we should encourage them to be the helpers, to be the ones who respond with a smile or a kind word, to be the peacemakers, to be the hands of gentleness. Although as teachers we are not big proponents of “screen time,” we encourage you to consider allowing your children to watch some episodes of Mr.
Rogers. He may, perhaps, help them contribute a little gentleness to our world.