THE BLOG

Misunderstanding Mister Rogers

07/05/2007 04:48 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

One of the perks of working with the folks around the late Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood was watching the reactions of young adults meeting him for the first time. Whether punkish or preppy, each and every one turned into a delighted four-year-old in the presence of the man who for so many years made them feel "special." Indeed, one of my favorite articles from that time (so long ago it's not on the Internet, kids) was about the adults who wrote to Mr. Rogers about how they liked to watch his show after a hard day, and how much they appreciated "feeling special."

Pretty much everybody who worked with Fred thought it was a good idea that kids -- all people -- should know that they're worth loving, no matter what. But now we have a Wall Street Journal columnist blaming the Rev. Fred Rogers (he was an ordained Presbyterian minister) for "rising narcissism among college students" and "representative of a culture of excessive doting." Said columnist immediately points out how little he "gets" about Fred and his colleagues at Family Communications Inc. when he writes:

Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names?

Excuse me, but has this guy ever watched the show? It's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." I could call him "Fred" because a) I was a grownup and b) he asked me to. But the show quietly reinforces the notion that adults are addressed differently from children. (After all this time, I still don't know Mr. McFeely's first name.) Whatever "culture" or "doting" the WSJ is talking about, it has nothing to do with the actual mission embodied in the program.

"Mister Rogers Neighborhood":

* is designed for children

* encourages children to feel good about themselves

* helps children learn the skills needed for learning readiness

* is based on solid principles of child development and child psychology

* encourages appreciation of and respect for others

* promotes values that are important to all children and families

The Wall Street Journal doesn't think those are good ideas? Well, as Fred taught us, we shouldn't be hurtful in our anger, and respect the differences in others while recognizing their shortcomings.

UPDATE:
I am informed that the first name of the MRN character Mr. McFeely is the same as that of the actor who still portrays him in many personal appearances throughout the year. David Newell is also the director of public relations for Family Communications Inc.