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Askwith Education Forum

Askwith Essentials: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The legacy of children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers.

Change into your cardigan and cozy slippers. On Wednesday, October 24, Askwith Forums will screen Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a feature documentary about children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers, whose Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood accompanied generations of children through their early years. A hit with both critics and audiences, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was one of the most talked about films of summer 2018 and has been generating Oscar buzz. Called “a gift” by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, the movie looks at the impact of Rogers’ work, which focused on the value of kindness and how it is imparted and relayed to children.

Fred Rogers

An unlikely star, Fred Rogers was a conservative, ordained minister who, on his show, wore a zip cardigan, changed his shoes when he walked in to the house, and played the piano. Like many great educators, Rogers believed in the redemptive power of love and learning, saying, “Love is at the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.” Many remember him today with fondness as a great teacher, who made all children feel loved.

Unique for its time, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood tackled tough issues like death, divorce, and racial discrimination. And in very small ways, Rogers advocated for change. One powerful episode featured in the film shows Rogers cooling off with an African American policeman in a plastic wading pool in the backyard. What makes this episode so poignant is that it was filmed at a time when black children in swimming pools were met with hostile resistance. It is the timelessness of his message, of his willingness to take a stand in a significant but peaceful way, that has contributed to the enduring power of his legacy.

“One of the lessons of Fred, in the very small and the very big, is that change is something we do not need to be afraid of,” said Ma in a recent interview. “It’s something that we can embrace, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.”

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