Over the weekend, I found myself watching a video of Fred Rogers testifying before the Senate subcommittee on communications in 1969. You may know Fred Rogers simply as “Mr. Rogers.” Even though it’s nearly 50 years later, in the wake of the Trump administration’s proposed budget that includes cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS, the words he spoke felt very relevant.
Here’s the video:
In it, he talks about how his show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” teaches children about emotional awareness, but also comments on how the show wouldn’t necessarily survive outside of public television because it can’t compete with what Rogers calls “animated bombardment.”
“We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen,” he said. “We deal with such things as getting a haircut.”
As a parent to young children, I enjoyed hearing about the emphasis on teaching children about recognizing how special they are, about not exposing children to violent programs, and helping them find control in their little worlds.
But as someone who was a child herself in the late ’80s, I also enjoyed just hearing Rogers’s voice. I forgot how calmly, kindly, and intentionally he spoke. It was similar to listening to an old voice mail I didn’t realize I still had from my late aunt; I’d forgotten her voice and phrases she used, and I had goosebumps.
When Rogers recites a song that begins, “What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite?” I smiled. And then I replayed it. In this political climate, who couldn’t stand to hear that song more often?
If you have children under the age of 7, you have likely noticed that “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” has been replaced on PBS by the cartoon “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Rogers died in 2003, but the cartoon, created by The Fred Rogers Company, provides what Rogers called an “expression of care” for children and families. There are moments in the cartoon similar to some in the original series. For instance, Daniel wears a nerdy red cardigan and changes his shoes at the top of the show.
It seems children tend to grow out of ”Daniel Tiger” by about 4, but my sensitive 5-year-old daughter still thoroughly enjoys it, and the lessons Daniel teaches kids about understanding their emotions have been immensely helpful.
I have sung, “When you feel so mad, like you want to roar, take a deep breath, and count to four” countless times . . . as well as “It’s OK to be sad sometimes,”“You can be a big helper in your family,” and “When you have to go potty, stop and go right away.” Daniel Tiger has gotten us through the addition of a little brother, understanding allergies, and the importance of resting when you’re sick, the same way that Mr. Rogers impressed upon me that it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
There have been numerous articles extolling the virtues of “Daniel,” which began in 2012: A recent study showed that kids who watch “Daniel Tiger” exhibit higher levels of empathy, self-efficacy, and emotion recognition when parents follow up by talking to them about the show. A mother wrote in The New York Times about how the show gave her austitic son the ability to understand the feelings of others. A developmental psychologist talked about how “Daniel” and other PBS shows like “Seasame Street” promote socioemotional development and school readiness (not to mention that their lack of commercials shields children in a way that other stations don’t). But I just like how my kids walk away kinder than they began.
When the video of Fred Rogers testifying before the Senate was shooting around the Internet, so were videos of the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, defending the Trump administrations’s budget.
“Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” Mulvaney asked on MSNBC. “And the answer is no. We can ask them to pay for defense, but we can’t ask them to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
A fellow parenting writer tweeted, “There is literally no one who uses PBS more than a single parent.”
It’s true: My single mom practically coparented with Mr. Rogers.
I don’t remember what my mother was trying to accomplish when I spent a half hour watching Mr. Rogers in his neighborhood of make-believe, but she was probably packing lunches, or making dinner, or just trying to take a deep breath without three children crawling all over her.
And now, though I have a live-in partner, I joke that “Daniel Tiger” is the third, and potentially favorite, parent in my house. And the thought that a lack of funding could shut him down, leaving me with a poor set of replacement cartoons on Nickelodeon (and leaving parents who can’t afford cable with nothing) makes me so mad that I could bite.Heather Ciras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.