Mister Rogers was a revolutionary. Yes… that Mister Rogers — the kindly gentleman, with the red cardigan sweater, tennis shoes, and puppet friends who welcomed generations of children to his neighborhood every weekday morning from 1968 to 2001. The same Fred Rogers who sang “…won’t you be my neighbor” and introduced us to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where Daniel Tiger, King Friday, Prince Tuesday and other lived.
It may be more accurate to say that Fred Rogers was a visionary who started a revolution in television. In the earliest days of television, Mister Rogers realized that the new technology of television could be used as a strong, affirming socializing agent for children. In essence, he envisioned a positive use for the new social media of that time. He created a one-of-a-kind program for children that weaved socio-emotional lessons throughout a show that featured a nurturing adult talking directly to the child viewer about issues children experience. He spoke respectfully at the child’s level, where other programs of the day were either sheer entertainment or were educational from an adult’s perspective.
Fred Rogers had the unique ability to deliver important messages to children that drew them in, that gave a mix of the real-world and fantasy world while subtly teaching children about their own emotions and relationships with others around them. In some regard, Mister Rogers’ shows were a one-two punch: the shows began with Mister Rogers, as our kindly neighbor, introducing the topic of the show, talking like a friend about something he had noticed or thought about since last time we visited his neighborhood. The second part of the show transitioned to the make-believe world when viewers figuratively boarded the red trolley through the tunnel to the land of make-believe. Here exchanges between Daniel Tiger and other puppets taught lessons about emotional interactions and relationships.
The use of puppets in the program was perhaps the most powerful part of the show for children, the part when more serious and potentially uncomfortable messages about people and emotions could be enacted for children. The puppets allowed children to more easily consider the workings of the social world at an emotionally safe distance, and in a fun, interactive way. Coupled with the real-life connection that Fred Rogers cultivated by talking directly to us in the first-person voice and showing both the real world and the world of make-believe, the messages delivered by Daniel Tiger and his friends allowed children to gain emotional and relational knowledge in a manner kids could relate to at their own developmental level. Perhaps the best quality of Mister Rogers’ approach was that it was accessible to kids of all ages.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the modern legacy of what Fred Rogers started over 50 years ago. The namesake of this new program is the son of Mister Rogers’ original Daniel Tiger puppet. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood still focuses on socio-emotional development in children, though its primary audience is children two to four years of age. This is the age when children are developing social understanding of themselves and the world, are beginning to see themselves as autonomous from others, and are developing concepts of complex emotions such as empathy, guilt, and compassion. And, just like Mister Rogers, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is making the most of a new technology in the form of computer generated animation, web-based applications, and video-streaming. Now children can visit Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood any time, and anywhere, and can still visiting Mister Rogers’ neighborhood on PBS. In fact, according to the Fred Rogers Company website, the number of stations that air Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood has more than doubled since Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood premiered four years ago.
As another generation of children gain from the early, revolutionary work of Fred Rogers, I think it worthwhile to remember the person who influenced the path of educational television and helped us all become better people. The introduction given when Fred Rogers was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award in 1997 expresses it best:
Fred Rogers gave “… generation upon generation of children
confidence in themselves; for being their friend; for telling them again
and again that they are special and that they have worth;
for brightening our mornings with kindness” (You Tube, March 2008).
The fact that Mister Rogers’ legacy lives on in the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a testament to the power of a visionary idea expressed in a soft-spoken, genuine, and caring way. Perhaps, another lesson learned from Mister Rogers is that sometimes the most effective and enduring revolution comes from the quiet-voiced leader who makes us all better people.
Assistant Dean for Advising • ADA Coordinator • Assistant Professor of Psychology • Academic and Disability Services
Mary Gulley joined the faculty of Centre College in 2004 as assistant professor of psychology.
Gulley’s areas of specialty include social psychology, interpersonal communication, social and personality development, and life span development. Her research has been published in the Journal of Social Issues, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships.
Gulley holds B.A. degrees in biological sciences and psychology from Transylvania University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in experimental psychology from the University of Louisville.
Tickets for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live are still available. More information Here.