WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

SUBJECTS: Health (Parenting); Biography (Fred Rogers); U.S. History 1945 to 1991; 1991 to present;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING: Parenting; Male Role Model

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS: Caring

AGE; 16+ Rated: PG-13; 95 minutes; color; 2018. Available from Amazon.com.

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MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS

For a movie worksheet for this film, see Film Study Worksheet for a Documentary.

DESCRIPTION

Fred Rogers, 1928 – 2003, was trained in childhood development, music composition, piano, and television production.  He used those talents to create and host one of the most beneficial and longest running television programs for children, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.   He went into television because, “I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.”  He was immensely successful.  In the process, Fred Rogers became a symbol for quality TV programming for children.   Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  describes the life of Fred Rogers, his efforts in children’s television, and the acclaim he received.

SELECTED AWARDS & CAST

Awards: Multiple awards from film festivals.

Cast: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, John Rogers

Director: Morgan Neville

BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE

This film will acquaint students with the greatest children’s television host of the second half of the 20th century.  It will show a man committed to doing good in the world and introduce the discipline of childhood development and beneficial media programming.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS

There is one brief flash of the unclothed posterior of one of the crew of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

PARENTING POINTS

Watch the film with your children and discuss any topics that interest them.

HELPFUL BACKGROUND

Fred Rogers believed that “kids need a lot of help in understanding their world . . . .”  and that television was a very personal medium through which he could assist children in that task.  He looked directly into the camera and talked directly to one child who was a composite of all the children he had ever met.    This helped him establish a strong rapport with his audience.  And then, as he said in the film, he helped children see their way “through some of the difficult modulations of life.”

“Fred Rogers . . . wasn’t a cartoon. He didn’t have superpowers.  He didn’t establish rapport with his audience by being sarcastic or edgy or hip. Rogers figured out it was enough to be gentle, soft-spoken, polite, and sincere and reassuring….”  Donvan Interview.

Rogers earned a masters degree in counseling from the University of Pittsburg. He also became an ordained Presbyterian minister.  Rogers adopted as his mission in life, and as an evangelical ministry for his church, working with young people and their parents through television.  Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was never overtly religious, but it was suffused with aspects of Christian theology that were beneficial to child development, including the idea that each child was special and wonderful in their own way (we are all the beloved son or daughter of God).  He taught Christian ethics, for example, honesty and love thy neighbor.  Note that while these principals are stressed in Christianity, these concepts are consistent with many religions.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood did not shy away from difficult topics; to the contrary, it embraced them.   The scripts, always written by Rogers himself, and the lyrics of the songs, again always written by Rogers, were planned out with Dr. Margaret McFarland, a professor of childhood development at the University of Pittsburg and a recognized expert in her field. For 22 years, until her death in 1988, Fred Rogers met with Dr. McFarland, usually three times a month when filming and on special occasions as needed.  Here are two examples of how themes for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood were developed:

    1. Interviewer:  You usually have a theme on your show. What makes a good theme?    Rogers: Well, I talk over those things with our consultant [Dr. Margaret McFarland] before I ever write the script, and so the things are always built on general growth tasks in childhood, and so if you find a universal growth task, such as the concern about separation and return, you can’t go wrong as far as themes are concerned. For instance, the fear of going down the bathtub drain, that is a universal concern of kids between two and four years old. To deal with that in a creative way is a challenge, but it’s worth doing. You may have seen cartoons where a diver goes down to the bottom of the sea and pulls the plug and all the water and all the boats and all the people and all the houses go down the drain of the sea. I don’t think that that is anyone who has set out to be malicious, but it’s someone who definitely had an unresolved childhood fantasy, and what that person is doing is just spewing that fantasy out on the screen for all the other kids to worry about.  Broughton, p. 56
    2. Permissible regression occurs when, often in times of stress, children go back to an earlier stage of development to regroup so that they can take the next step in their own development.  Rogers:  “As long as Margaret [McFarland] was alive, we would talk about possible themes. . . . One time we decided that we should write a song about permissible regression, you know regression in the service of the ego. And I thought long and hard about how should I do that.  And I remember it coming to me.  I called her up and said what do you think about this?   PBS Archival Interview, Part 6 of 9 . See also Broughton, p. 58.

Examples of themes dealt with on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

  1. I can’t go to school because I don’t know everything (Episodes 1462 & 1463);
  2. Was I really wanted or was I a mistake? (Lyrics to the song Sometime I think I was a Mistake);
  3. Divorce – “Did you know any grownups who got married and then later they got a divorce?”  (Episode 1476);
  4. Death of a pet (Episode 1101) ;
  5. Making Mistakes (Episode 1578);
  6. Assassination (Special aired on June 7, 1968 after the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy);
  7. Fear of going down the bathtub drain (see discussion of theme development #1, Episode 1588); and
  8. Permissible regression (see discussion of theme development #2).

The program always starts with the ritual of Mr. Rogers coming in the door singing It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  He takes off his jacket and replaces it with his sweater and then sits and takes off his shoes, replacing them with his sneakers.  Then there is a segment which Mr. Rogers is the host that deals with reality: a visit to a location such as a store, a bakery, a factory, or putting something together.  Next, there is a segment in the neighborhood of make-believe with actors and puppets.   Mr. Rogers never appears in the neighborhood of make-believe which occurs as if in a dream.  Then the show comes back to Mr. Rogers and reality in which Mr. Rogers provides a simple interpretation of the dream following the adage that “whatever is mentionable is manageable.”

The slow pacing of the show and of Mr. Rogers’ speech was designed to appeal to young children. Rogers’ use of time on the program was different than other television programming which relies on fast paced scene changes. Rogers once had the camera focus on an egg timer for an entire minute to give children a sense of time.

Rogers believed that the basic premise of children’s television was always to tell the truth. He realized that patience and understanding could help young audiences deal with difficult issues.

Fred Rogers never appeared in a commercial for a product and there were never advertisements for products on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Rogers disapproved of hosts of children programming pitching anything. He believed that hosts were to be trusted by the children and they should not to use that trust to be hucksters.  It helped that Rogers had inherited money from his parents and was comfortable financially.

In an interview on PBS, Morgan Neville, the director of the film, had this to say about Fred Rogers:

If Mister Rogers is considered a ‘wimp’ in popular culture, the real Fred Rogers was the opposite – a man of iron will on a mission, and with a real vision. He was funny, he was devout, and he was deep.”

“Fred’s argument, that I think resonates today, is that kindness, in fact, is not just window dressing. In fact, it’s fundamental to how neighborhoods work — which is how communities work and societies work. Without kindness, everything will fall apart; that’s sure how it feels now.”

“I think Fred spoke like a child in the best sense of the word — which is free of artifice and utter sincerity. Most adults don’t express exactly what they’re feeling or ask exactly what they want to know, they hide all of those things, but children don’t. Fred was able to use this incredible sincerity to reach people’s emotional bullseyes. In watching the film, I think people feel that somehow somewhere, Fred is going to connect with their emotional trigger, because his sincerity, by extent his vulnerability, is so manifest.”

There’s no doubt that Fred was a radical, in terms of what the word really means — which is that he dealt with things that were at the root of how the world works and how we perceive it. Fred was not interested in superficiality; he was always interested in the essence of a thing.

The kind of words we use around what Fred did — like kindness, neighborliness, niceness — are treated as quaint and old-fashioned. Fred’s argument, that I think resonates today, is that kindness, in fact, is not just window dressing. In fact, it’s fundamental to how neighborhoods work — which is how communities work and societies work. Without kindness, everything will fall apart; that’s sure how it feels now.

Additional Interesting Facts and Quotes

  • Mr. Rogers was a loving parental figure for children 2 -5 years of age and older. Children at that age must feel loved by their parents in order to develop normally.  Rogers famously said, “Love is at the root of everything.  All learning, all parenting, all relationships,  … love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.”
  • When asked why so many adults said they watched his program when they were children and thanked him for the experience he gave them, Rogers said, “I think that people long to be in touch with honesty and I wonder if they are not thanking us for just giving ourselves.  And I think that people sense that we want to be honest with them. Many of them know that I would say that this might hurt.  If you go to the doctor and the doctor gives you an injection, this might hurt at first, but it won’t hurt for long. We are not going to fudge stuff. We are going to tell them the truth. And we are not going to dance around and say how happy things are when they are not.”
  • Fred Rogers connected directly with millions of young children.  He believed that, “The space between the television screen and whoever happens to be receiving it, I consider that to be very holy ground.  A lot happens there.”  Many adults report that his program helped them through difficult times in their childhood.  He described one instance when the connection proved to be  inestimably important,

I had a letter the other day saying that this woman had been abused and raped as a young child and she would find her solace in going into a little room that had the television.  And she said, “I really believed it when you said that people could like me exactly as I was because I really didn’t like myself that much at first, but I really came to believe you.”

Rogers continued,

Well, to me that’s a holy enterprise. That the space between the television set and that little girl who was in such desperate need the space there was holy ground.  Something was happening that wasn’t in my control. I was just saying what was in my heart and between that moment and her receiving it was, I think, a mysterious wonder.   Donvan Interview for Nightline, Minute Beginning at minute 11:50

  • Rogers believed that, “Those of us who are producers and purveyors of television are servants of the people.”
  • His goal was to create a library of episodes that would cover all the issues of childhood development.
  • Rogers believed that, the feelings of a young child are every bit as important as the feelings of an adult.
    Rogers said “I would hope that anybody who sets himself or herself out to produce mass programming for children could have the kind of respect for childhood that I have; because it’s not all clowns and balloons.
  • Rogers said that the only thing that ever really changes the world is when somebody gets the idea that love can abound and be shared.  Edinboro Graduation Speech 1998
  • Fred Rogers said, “Of course, we don’t always succeed in what we try.  Certainly not by the world’s standards. But  I think you will find that it’s the willingness to keep trying that really matters most.  It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth.  That’s the bedrock of our very being is good stuff.  That’s what makes anybody and anything truly memorable.”
  • Fred Rogers was also a prolific author, writing numerous books on parenting.
  • Fred Rogers said, “We just don’t get to be competent human beings without a loft of different investments from others.”

Rogers’ pronouncement that each child was special, that each deserved to be heard and to be loved, and that he liked them just the way they were underlined the fundamental value we each have as human beings. He also spoke to character and taught children to respect themselves and one another. He instilled a healthy regard for emotions and offered coping strategies to bolster children’s self-regulation (e.g. “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel”). He suggested that that children discuss their feelings and that this was a way to manage them. He taught that feelings are not forever; children may be sad now but they’ll also be happy again. Feelings are a part of life.

Evaluating Criticism of Fred Rogers

“I like You Just the Way You Are” Is Not the Same as Entitlement:    The legacy of Fred Rogers has been criticized by some as leading to a sense of entitlement and lack of achievement among children.  However, blaming Fred Rogers for the “culture of entitlement”  is a shallow understanding of his message. Telling very young children that they are special just the way they are lays a foundation of self-respect and feelings of self-worth that lead to the ability to achieve. “Since inherent value is in all of us, no one at their core is especially different. From that place of inestimable value springs our potential, but not an entitlement.” No, Mr. Rogers Isn’t Responsible for the Entitlement Culture, by Barry Brownstein, Foundation for Economic Education, Febuary 4, 2019.

We have never seen a statement by Rogers that indicated that being special meant that you did not need to achieve.  For example,  when a child proudly told Fred Rogers, “I only wear diapers at night.”  Rogers’ response, was  “It will be up to you when you give them up at night.”  This shows the child his power to be successful at his next difficult task but also tells him that he will have to do the work to get there.

Having inherent value doesn’t mean an easy journey on the road to achievement. It was just the first step on that road. Fred Rogers expressed it this way in a commencement address to Dartmouth College in 2002:

When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything that you can ever see or hear or touch, that deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive, love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed. So, in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whatever you are.

Another criticism was that by exposing a child to trusted positive entertainment, he set us up for believing all those terrible commercials children are exposed to.  The poor programming of others is not Mr. Rogers’ fault.  Nor is it his fault that parents allow their children to watch these programs.

USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM

Before showing the movie, ask the class to do the following simple quickwrite.  Tell them that you are going to ask them a question that Fred Rogers asked many audiences when he gave a speech or simply wanted to help another person get in touch with his or her feelings.  Give the class five minutes to write a sentence or a  paragraph containing the names of the following people. Tell them that some students will just have one or two people to include in their list, but that some may have more.  This is what Mr. Rogers would ask:

From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving. . . . Let’s just take some time and think of those extra special people.  Some of them may be right here, some may be far away, some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down you know they’ve always wanted what is best of for you.  They have always cared about you beyond measure and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you.

At the end of the class, give the following as a homework assignment:  For each of the people that you named in the Quickwrite in class, people who have always wanted the best for you, always cared about you beyond measure, and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you, name them and describe how they have contributed to your life.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Criticisms of Mr. Rogers Rebutted

1.    Mr. Rogers told young children that they are loved just the way they are.  Do you see a problem with this?  Justify your position.

Suggested Response:  

This is a great message for young children.  However, just about anything, taken too far, can have negative consequences.   A sense of self-worth is necessary for children to go on to accomplish anything when they become adults; from a sense of self-worth springs all of our potential.  There is no evidence that Fred Rogers took the idea of a sense of worth, too far.  He said, “When I say, ‘It’s you I like,’ I’m talking about that part of you that helps you to wonder and dream and feel for others. That’s the part of you that will make the biggest difference in this world.”

2.   The term “culture of entitlement” refers to situations when people have unreasonable expectations about what they are entitled to receive  without actually earning it or competing for it.  It removes all incentive to achieve.  Some people claim that by convincing young children that they are special, just the way they are, Fred Rogers contributed to a culture of entitlement.  Is Mr. Rogers responsible when older children or adults are infected by a culture of entitlement?

Suggested Response:

See the discussion of criticisms of Fred Rogers in the Helpful Background Section. The following are also responses to this criticism. This is a matter of debate. TWM contends that it is a misuse of Mr. Rogers’ teachings to use them to justify a feeling of entitlement.

In addition, Mr. Rogers’ television show was just one -half hour a day for each episode and it was directed to very young children. There are many aspects that lead to an entitlement culture, chiefly the influence of parents. Any responsibility for older children or adults who believe that they are entitled to grades or advantages in life just because they are “special” lies with the parents.

Moreover, Mr. Rogers’ mantra of, “I love you just the way you are” was said in the context of a message to all children. The children who received the message had to have known this. It is several steps away from this concept to the idea that in the real world, away from the loving environment of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, that one is entitled, without effort or accomplishment, to what one wants.

3. One could say that Fred Rogers was just working out his feelings of inadequacy early in life when he would be teased by his classmates as “Fat Freddy.”

Suggested Response:

A strong response will note that Fred Rogers was working out his childhood traumas in a positive way.  Here’s another way to say it, “If everyone dealt with their childhood disappointments, traumas, and insecurities in the positive and beneficial way that Fred Rogers did, the world would be a much better place.”

Other Questions:

4.     “Seizing the main chance” means taking advantage of a great opportunity, of being in the right place at the right time and capitalizing on it.  Mr. Rogers recognized that being in the right place at the right time helped him fulfill his mission of making a high quality children’s television program.  When he started Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood there was very little children’s programming other than cartoons.  He said, “I’d like to be remembered for being a compassionate human being who happened to be fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was a fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I had been given.”  He seized the main chance and became the Mr. Rogers of history.   The concept of seizing the main chance applies in all of life, in things large and small.  Do you know of anyone who, like Mr. Rogers, has seized chances to make their lives better or to do something good for others?  What happened?”

[Here are two examples that teachers may want to cite that might help the class understand the concept and how it might apply to their lives: ]

(1) A young wife says to her husband that she has just seen a little puppy in the park near their home.  The puppy looks just like dogs that her family had when she was growing up. She tells her husband that she would love to have a puppy like that.  The next day the husband is crossing the park on his way home from work. He sees the dog that his wife was describing with a young woman he does not know. The young woman has another dog with her, a large German Shepherd.  . . .  [One option is to let the class finish the story from this point on.  Any variation with a happy ending serves the purpose.  Or, the teacher can continue.] . . .  The husband goes up to the woman he does not know and says, “If you ever want to get rid of that puppy, I’ll take him.”  The woman responds, “Will you get him his shots?” It turns out that the woman had recently found the puppy wandering alone.  She had taken him home.  But she did not have room in her apartment for two dogs, so she was looking for someone to take the puppy.  The husband had been in the right place at the right time. The young couple named the puppy “Omar.”  They loved him and he loved them for 19 years until he was too old to continue, and they had to put him to sleep.

(2) A young girl loved ballet but her family was too poor to afford ballet lessons. This girl is one of those people who loves dance and for whom dance is central to her being. However, as she was growing up, there were times when there was hardly enough money in her home for food, let alone for dance lessons.  When she was out of school, living on her own, working, earning her own money,  with her evenings free,  . . . [One option is to let the class finish the story from this point on.  Any variation with a happy ending serves the purpose.  Or, the teacher can continue.]  . . . a friend suggested she might want to recapture that part of her life that she had lost.  She had grave doubts.  How could she compete with women who had been dancing all through their pre-teen and teenage years?  However, she decided to try and began taking ballet, modern dance, and jazz classes.  While she could not make up completely for the lack of training when she was young, she worked hard and became good enough to earn admission to a dance conservatory, to graduate, and to go on to be a dance teacher.  She was also able to take upper-level dance classes for the rest of her life.  Actually, she is now in her 70s and still taking upper level modern and jazz dance classes with other students a quarter of her age.

Suggested Response:  

There is, of course, no one correct response. Hopefully, students will be able to come up with some examples from their own experience when someone was in the right place at the right time and seized the opportunity.   Teachers can also tell the class that the young woman from the two examples was actually the same person.  Below is a picture of the dog, the beloved Omar, and the young woman, taking a dance class at age 70.  She is the dancer closest to the camera.  The little girl in the pink dress in the foreground is her seven-year-old granddaughter, who also loves to dance.  You can be sure that this little girl gets every dance class she wants to take.

The beloved Omar

A Dance Class

5. Mr. Rogers believed that kindness is fundamental to how neighborhoods, communities, and societies work.  He said, “Without kindness, everything will fall apart. . , ,”   Give an example from your life or that you have heard about which demonstrates that kindness is fundamental to how neighborhoods work.

Suggested Response:

Teachers should be ready with a student-friendly example to get this discussion going.  Here are some suggestions.  The first, is the story of how the husband and wife from example #1 in the previous question found their dog, Omar.  The woman who had taken the puppy in and was looking for someone to give him a permanent home demonstrated kindness for the dog and for his future guardians.  Another example:  someone finds a cat, takes him to the veterinarian to see if the cat has a chip which tells people the identity of the cat’s owner and how to get in touch with him or her.  The vet reads the chip and the person who found the cat calls the owner who was worried sick about the animal and is ecstatic to learn that the cat is safe. A final example, is that someone is a witness to a crime.  Instead of just walking away, the person stays to help anyone injured and to be a witness to what happened so that the district attorney can make a case against the perpetrator in court.

6.    Why didn’t Fred Rogers ever appear in the neighborhood of make-believe in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Suggested Response:

Mr. Rogers didn’t appear in the neighborhood of make-believe because he was the voice of reality; he needed to talk to children about their feelings in reality not in make-believe.

7.    Morgan Neville, the man who wrote and directed the documentary, stated “In watching the film, I think people feel that somehow somewhere, Fred is going to connect with their emotional trigger, because his sincerity, by extent his vulnerability, is so manifest.”  This gives rise to two questions.  First, what is the role of vulnerability in human relations?  Second, what can you do to address this problem of vulnerability in human relations?

Suggested Response:

All human relations involve people becoming vulnerable to each other in lesser or greater degrees. An element of vulnerability is an essential factor in developing friends and loving relationships.  However, people who are over self-protective will restrict their relationships.  The only thing to do is to understand that vulnerability is essential and that if someone takes advantage of that vulnerability and hurts you, the problem is with them and that you are much better off making yourself vulnerable.  Of course, there are limits to this, and the process of growing up is learning how to assess others to determine if you can safely be vulnerable to them and when you need to pull back and protect yourself.

8. Classifying people or non-human sentient beings as “the other” is a prerequisite to committing atrocities against them. For example, the Nazis classified Jews, Slavs, Africans, the disabled, and political opponents as “others”, essentially non-human, to justify their extermination. (While the Nazis killed 6,000,000 Jews, it is often forgotten that in their extermination camps they killed another 6,000,000 Slavs, political opponents, Roma, disabled persons, the very religious, and others who didn’t conform to their concepts of what a person should be.)  In the Genocide in Rwanda the Hutu killers called their victims, the Tutsis, “cockroaches” before slaughtering them with machetes.  What would Fred Rogers say about the classifying people or sentient beings as “the other”?

Suggested Response:

Clearly Fred Rogers would have nothing to do with the concept of “the other” for people. In addition, he extended that to non-human sentient animals. He was a vegetarian because he could not eat anything that had a mother. For many years he had been a pescatarian – eating only plants, fish, eggs and dairy products. He changed to exclude fish from his diet when he told someone that he had heard that fish were good for him to eat. The response was, “Well, it’s not so good for the fish.” That was enough for Fred Rogers, who promptly stopped eating fish.

Bonus question:   Name some other famous people whose ethics refused to acknowledge the concept of “the other” for all groups of people and all sentient beings.

Suggested Response:

They include Cesar Chavez, Joaquin Phoenix, and many others.

A Question that can Test for Victims of Child Abuse in Your Class:

9.  Note to Teachers:  Childhood sexual abuse is a pandemic that does severe injury to its victims and increases their risk of untimely death.  The CDC states that in the U.S., “About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience child sexual abuse at some point in childhood.” In a 30 student class with as many boys as girls that’s three or four girls and one boy who will have been victims of sexual abuse by the time they reach the age of 18. A recent review of 68 studies showed that victims of childhood sexual abuse or neglect are three times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide. The following question may elicit reports of sexual abuse from your class. TWM strongly recommends that teachers ask this question because of the prevalence and severity of childhood sexual abuse.  (As was said many times during the Covid-19 Pandemic, “We are all in this together.”)  However, asking the question should be cleared with your principal and there should be someone available to take over the class if the teacher must comfort an overwhelmed child and take her or him to a counselor.

Question:  Mr. Rogers tells this story: [Note, this is from an Interview by John Donvan for Nightline.  It is on Youtube. Teachers may want to play the interview. This section is from minute 11:50 to minute 14:15]

Interviewer:  “Over the years, has [Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood] ever been an antidote . . . to things that are going on in America, especially in childhood America.  Have you ever thought of it as the refuge for kids?”  Rogers:  “.  . . I’ve always thought of myself as a neighbor, an uncle, that came to visit and just said, ‘Hey, let’s spend a half-hour together.  You know, I accept you exactly as you are.  Let’s just spend some time together.’   But to think of it as an antidote to other things, you can’t help but do that when you read some of the mail.  And especially now when people in their 30s are writing to say that, ‘You know, yours was the haven that I felt in my childhood.   I didn’t know that people treated other people that nice.’ I had a letter the other day saying that this woman had been abused and raped as a young child and she would find her solace in going into a little room that had the television.  And she said, ‘I really believed it when you said that people could like me exactly as I was because I really didn’t like myself that much at first, but I really came to believe you.’ Well, to me that’s a holy enterprise. That the space between the television set and that little girl who was in such desperate need the space there was holy ground.  Something was happening that wasn’t in my control. I was just saying what was in my heart and between that moment and her receiving it was, I think, a mysterious wonder.”  Donvan Interview for Nightline, Minute Beginning at minute 11:50

Why didn’t this little girl, who was the victim of a crime, just report it to the authorities?  There are many reasons.  [Then ask several members of the class to describe a reason  Compare the responses to the list below and make sure, before the lesson is completed and through direct instruction if necessary, that most of the topics have been covered.]

Suggested Response:

Class discussion should include most of the following points. They are not set out in any particular order.

a. Fear for the Personal Safety of the Victim or Others: Abused children are often afraid that the perpetrator will hurt them or others in their family if the child reports the sexual abuse. Abuse is ultimately an exercise of power by the perpetrator over the victim.  Often abusers will threaten to hurt the victim or other family members.

b. Guilt: The perpetrator will convince the child that the abuse was the child’s fault; that somehow the child caused the perpetrator to take the wrongful action, either because the child is too pretty or seductive or because the child was naughty and did something bad.

c. Shame and embarrassment:  The child will feel ashamed and embarrassed at being the subject of abuse.  He or she will wonder why they of all the children in the world are subjected to this abuse. This, of course, is not correct because, although the child doesn’t know it, childhood sexual abuse is frequent – one in four girls and one in thirteen boys.  But the child, thinking that this doesn’t happen to others, may believe, like the little girl who later wrote to Mr. Rogers, that she was not a good person.  “I really didn’t like myself that much at first.”  But of course, this is wrong because it is the adult who is causing the abuse and committing the crime; but the child does not know this.

In some instances, the perpetrator leads the child into taking actions that the child on some level knows are wrong; this can include cooperating in the abuse or extending it to others.

Children may feel good about being singled out by an adult for special attention.

In addition, biologically, sexual contact is made to be pleasurable and often the child will feel some pleasure in sexual abuse.  The child will then feel ashamed and embarrassed about having these feelings and that there is something wrong with him or her when in fact it’s only natural. Guilt also plays a role here; the child may feel guilty about the pleasurable feelings. One of the terrible things about childhood sexual abuse is that it turns what should be a wonderful experience into something sordid and conflicted.

d. Fear of Disrupting the Family — Family Loyalty:  If the perpetrator is a family member, the child-victim may fear that if the abuse is reported, the family will be broken up or that a perpetrator who is a family member will be punished and that the family and thus the child’s life will be drastically disrupted. Perpetrators often play on this fear to secure silence from their victims.

The child accepts the abuse because the child is emotionally attached to the abusive family member and wants the love of the family member.

In some cultures sexual activity or what happens in the home is very private and not to be disclosed to non-family members.

When relatives are economically or psychologically dependent on the perpetrator, children will be reluctant to cause problems in those relationships; e.g., the mother will be hurt if the child were to disclose that the father was committing abuse and the family could not survive economically if the father was jailed.

e. Protecting Siblings: Children may believe that by accepting the abuse, they are protecting other siblings from abuse.

f. Becoming Co-opted by the Perpetrator: In situations of sexual abuse, the perpetrator will often enlist the child as a co-participant in keeping the abuse from others: “it’s our little secret”. It’s very flattering to a child to be a co-participant with an adult in taking some action. Co-option of the victim also occurs when the perpetrator leads the child to participate in the acts of abuse or in assisting the perpetrator in abusing others. This is compounded by guilt.

g. Fear of Disbelief: Many children feel that they will not be believed, especially when the perpetrator is an important and respected family member or friend of the family.

h. Abusive Activity as Normal: Some abusers may convince the child that the abuse is a normal way of showing love.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING

Parenting:

1. Did you learn anything about how you will parent your children from watching this film?

Suggested Response:
There is no one correct response. All well considered thoughts should be validated.

 

Male Role Model:

2. Would you consider Fred Rogers to be a male role model? Support your conclusion.

Suggested Response:
There is no one correct response to this question. Mr. Rogers made a lifelong commitment to do good in the world through his television programming for children. He also reached out to help persons in need.  He was compassionate. These are attributes of a good person, whether in a man or a woman, and TWM contends, that the life of Mr. Rogers was an expression of the highest form of humanity. See section on Fred Rogers – A Male Role Model, in the Learning Guide to It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)

1. If you asked Mr. Rogers the benefits that caring can provide, what would he say?

Suggested Response:
There is no one correct answer. Strong responses will include: 1) society will be a better place; 2) families will be strong; 3) we will have better relations with others; and 4) we will feel better about ourselves.

ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES

See the assignment relating to people who have loved the students into being set out in the Using the Film in the Classroom section. This essay can be easily adapted to situations in which the class was not given the quickwrite.   Consider telling students that their responses will not be shared with the class.

Many of the discussion questions are excellent essay topics.

1. Write an essay on the rejection of the concept of the other by Fred Rogers or by Cesar Chavez. Trace the emotional and ethical basis for this rejection.

2. Write one page of resolutions about what you can do to take up Mr. Rogers’ challenge.  These actions can be in your personal relationships and in civic life

“Let’s take the gauntlet and make goodness attractive in this so-called next millennium.  That’s the real job that we have. I’m not talking about Pollyannaish kind of stuff.  I’m talking about down to earth actual goodness, people caring for each other in a myriad of ways instead of knocking each other off.”

CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS

Multimedia:

Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

 

Reading:

Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

 

Writing:

Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

 

Speaking and Listening:

Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

 

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

BRIDGES TO READING

For advanced high school level readers, the two articles about Mr. Rogers by Tom Junod are insightful and beautifully written. They are: “Can You Say…Hero? – Mr. Rogers Profile Interview,” Esquire Magazine, November, 1998  and Mister Rogers’s Enduring Wisdom, The Atlantic magazine, December 27, 2019

LINKS TO THE INTERNET

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The web pages cited in this Learning Guide and:

  • The Good Neighbor: The Life and Times of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, 2018, The Abrams Press, New York;
  • Interview of Fred Rogers by Irv Broughton in Producers on Producing: The Making of Film and Television, pages 48 to 59, 1986. McFarland and Company  (from Google Books)

This Learning Guide written by James A. Frieden. It was published on May 4, 2020.