Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood brought rare kindness and depth to children’s television. This year marked the 50th anniversary of Fred Rogers’ unique show, which started in 1968 and ended in 2001. Fred was acutely aware of the importance of helping children learn how to make good choices. In fact, the opening of his show, “won’t you be my neighbor?” was itself an invitation to make the choice of being a good neighbor to ourselves and others.
Last weekend, the killing of eleven people in the Tree of Life Synagogue occurred in Fred’s real-life neighborhood, the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. In thinking about this and other hate crimes across the country, I discovered a timely commencement address given by Fred in 2002 at his alma mater, Dartmouth College. Inviting the large audience to think in very practical terms about what it means to be a good neighbor to others, he said “I would like to give you an invisible gift. The gift of a silent moment to think about those who have helped you to become who you are today. Who do you think of, when you think of those people?” This past Monday, at our school’s weekly morning meeting, I gave all of the students this same invisible gift, a silent minute to think about those who had helped them to become who they are today.
Oak Meadow School deeply embraces the concept of being a good neighbor, and I discovered evidence of this all across our school this week. One of the Beginners classes made a loaf of bread for the neighboring class, mixing the ingredients themselves, baking the dough in a small oven, and presenting their gift. Children’s House is studying Mahatma Gandhi to learn about examples of leaders who have been good neighbors. Lower Elementary children are encouraged to notice random acts of kindness by others and add a small note in their classroom kindness jar. Upper Elementary students were helping younger students with reading this week, and they also collect the school’s recycling daily. Middle School students hosted a Bread and Soup event, raising funds to benefit the Acton Food Pantry. All of this occurred in this week alone.
During last Monday’s morning meeting, students shared a song with the community that reinforced the idea of striving for a deep foundation of goodness:
See me beautiful
Look for the best in me
It’s what I really am
And all I want to be
It may take some time
It may be hard to find
But see me beautiful…
Being a good neighbor is not an insignificant skill. In our highly competitive and increasingly complex world, being a good neighbor requires toughness, grit, determination, courage, patience, and love. What skills are most important to our students in the 21st century? Digging deeply into this research, what I have discovered is that “people” skills are deemed more important than anything else. The world economic forum highlights skills such as cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, service orientation, negotiation, team building, collaboration, and complex problem solving. Learning how to be a good neighbor is at the heart of each of these essential 21st century skills. And just as importantly, learning to be a good neighbor gets to the heart of being our own best selves. Fred Rogers closed his commencement address at Dartmouth College with these words:
“It’s not the honors and the praises, the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s knowing we can be trusted, that we never fear the truth, that the bedrock from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.
“Life is more than anything you can see or hear or touch. It’s the deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate. Peace that rises triumphant over war. And justice that proves more powerful than greed.
“So in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices that will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.”
“See me beautiful”
Copyright 1986 Smilin’ Atcha Music, Inc.
Written by Red and Kathy Grammer