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The Way Of ‘Mr. Rogers’

Jyoti Tibrewala

The final episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” will air this week. 72-year-old Fred Rogers, who many of us have grown up watching, will be “hanging up his cardigan for the last time” [Time, August 22]. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” has always been at the forefront of children’s programming, exploring many of the facets of a child’s life. Rogers helps children explore their feelings, troubles, and fears. While treading these very delicate areas, it’s vital to keep children comfortable. Rogers accomplishes this by always welcoming the viewer with a smile. And it’s not one of those fake, permanent smiles you might see on other shows, but a deep, warm smile, distinguished by the fact that his lips don’t turn as high upward as they would in a phony smile.

So where does this leave children’s television? Well, at the moment there seems to be a balance between quality programs like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and shows that have a lower educational value. A closer look at some of the more popular kids’ shows, though, hints that this equilibrium may be changing for the worse.

“Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers” made up the bulk of my television experience as a child. While “Sesame Street” doesn’t go too much into fears and troubles like Rogers’ show does, it does teach concepts such as sharing A scene comes to mind involving Ernie, his rubber duckie, and a little boy. Both “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street” include scenes which use puppets and live characters to teach concepts such as sharing.

However, this must be handled properly. Take “Barney,” for example. Now there’s a show that stresses the ideals of friendship and sharing. But let’s put aside the issue of friendship for a second, and focus on that of sharing. Let’s also put aside the two minor puppet characters and look at just Barney and his interaction with the children. Nine times out of ten, he’s the one with the answers. He’s the one who encourages the children to share with each other or with the other two dinosaurs. One can’t help but notice that Barney is always better than the children. Sure, children don’t know everything. But at least on “Sesame Street” or “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the live characters are either on par with their puppet counterparts or they are the ones who have the idea of sharing in the first place. Children don’t want to be made to feel that they are inconsiderate. Place the live character in the superior position, and once children see that often enough, they will learn that that is what to do. They should be nice and offer to share. Sure, once in a while, Barney should be there to offer his wisdom, but he shouldn’t be the primary character who knows what’s right and what is wrong.

“Blue’s Clues” was started by Nickelodeon a few years ago. (Hey, when you’re home from school and nothing else is on, what better to do than check out the new children’s programming?) The show features a dog and a man named Steve. Blue and Steve involve the preschool-aged viewer in solving everyday problems. By solving these problems, the child learns many parts of the thought process. The child hones almost all of his or her skills, from motor, to perceptory, to reading, to role-playing. And Steve and Blue learn along with the child viewers. I don’t need to elaborate on how good a thing this is.

But while you have “Sesame Street” and “Blue’s Clues,” there’s also “Bananas in Pajamas.” Now I honestly can’t tell you that I grew up watching this show. I’ll also admit that when I first heard of the title and saw commercials for it, I laughed. But nonetheless, it seems to be one of the more heavily watched shows these days, and so will use second-hand research to form my opinion of this show. The bananas, B1 and B2, like playing tricks on the Teddies. No official word on any other purpose of the show is available. Wonderful. A couple of fruit pranksters.

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a pioneer in the world of children’s television programming. With the show coming to an end, and “Sesame Street” having been on the air for years, there aren’t many mainstream television programs that show much promise of becoming the next big thing in children’s programming. Hopefully something will come along to reach the next generation of children in the way that Fred Rogers reached us.