Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mr. Rogers

Last week I was looking for a quote by Fred Rogers. This was for a presentation at a big conference. I had read this quote before. It has to do with using what we learn about language and mathematics and how those powerful tools may be used for good or evil.

It took a while to find it, but along the way I ran across many wonderful ideas penned or spoken by the amazing Mr. Rogers. The guy was brilliant. His words were simple but elegant, easy to understand but deep.

The search for that quote reminded me of the time when my own boys were really young and we would watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood when I got home from school. This was before we had cable and the only channels we could pull in on the old rabbit ears were ABC, NBC, CBS and Public Television. Thank God for ETV for Kids. Watching Mr. Rogers with my boys was a treasure. His messages of love and self-worth were not just for the very young.

After all those years, reading his words again rejuvenated me. They reconnected me to that special time when Devin was about 3 and Colin 1 ½. Both boys in diapers and nothing else. That was such a special time for us. Such an intimate sharing. After the show we might hold on and watch Magic School Bus or head outside to romp around near the lakeshore.

All of this came flooding back as I read through quote after quote. What a smart guy. What an inspiration. Little kids hooked on Mr. Rogers were lucky. Grown-ups hooked on Mr. Rogers (and few of us would actually admit it out loud) were lucky too.

Finally I found the one I was looking for. When I first rediscovered the words it was pretty late. Heidi was already asleep. I read it aloud to myself to see if it would work to begin my presentation. I copied it word for word from the computer screen. For the next several days I carried it with me, pulling it out occasionally to practice reading it so when the time came to read it aloud to a big bunch of professionals, I wouldn’t choke up.

You know with the No Child Left Behind legislation and pressure on teachers and students to perform well on high stakes standardized tests, Fred Rogers words help me to keep it all in perspective. It’s not enough to merely be able to read. I want my students to laugh when they read something funny and to cry when they read something sad or touching. I want my students to read like they can’t wait to share something they have learned or well-crafted words they have read. I want my students to be moved by what they read.

Likewise, it’s not enough to merely be able to write. I want my students to be compelled to write, to convince, to share who they are and what they know. I want my students to choose their words wisely and to be able to move others by what they write.

So Fred’s words were perfect. They said, in few words, what it took me many to say. It is an honor and a privilege to share them with you.

"It's easy to convince people that children need to learn the alphabet and numbers. How do we help people to realize that what matters is how a person's inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life? What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of war or the description of a sunrise, and his numbers for the final count in Buchenwald or for the specifics of a new bridge" (Fred Rogers)


Kelly said...

LOVED the post and the quote and...well, all of it. my boss and i have had that same sort of conversation many times. it isn't necessarily that you read, it is more of what you read and how. i know i was too old to do so when it happened, but i kind of teared up when i found out mr. rogers had died. childhood just seems to be lacking so much now that charles schulz, fred rogers, shel silverstein and one of the berenstains have died. can i send my sister's children to be in your class when they're old enough? it's a state away, but i'm sure with enough effort the school board could be persuaded to allow it, wouldn't you think?

Gloria (The Mamafamilias) said...

Love it. Thank you for sharing. I've never read or heard this quote before.

Harper and Dad said...

I really loved the quote. After you put it in our boxes last week I set it just below my computer monitor where I could see. It's still there.
I actually spent some time earlier in the year going back through many of his songs in hopes of finding just the right one for my kids at school. He wrote so many wonderful lyrics about self-worth and caring for others.
And by the way, you're volume amazes me. Coming back from the Philly trip with four blogs (!) amazes me.