Simple lessons still relevant

It was a simple message delivered sweetly and directly to children.

Be a neighbor.

Fred Rogers first delivered the message Feb. 19, 1968, 50 years ago, on National Educational Television, the forerunner to PBS.

Along the way, the world learned from live characters such as Pittsburgh jazz musician Joe Negri and in the Neighborhood of Make Believe from a cast of beloved characters, including King Friday, X the Owl and Daniel Tiger.

To children, it was a program that offered safety and security, a place where life was always the same, where the troubles that would fill the adult world were far away, but where the adult life also was dealt with in a way that children could understand. Everything from divorce to the assassination of Robert Kennedy was discussed in a way that still left children feeling safe, that life would go on and that they would be able to be whatever they wanted.

The puppets dealt with adult-level problems, such as racism, in the way puppets would deal with such things. And the messages were subtle, not a slam over the head. The technique of subtlety is often lost in children’s TV nowadays. We’d suggest a thorough re-watching of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to any would-be children’s TV programmers seeking to teach lessons. Don’t cloy or annoy. Just deliver the message, straight and sweet and on the child’s level.

And the message, to treat everyone as your neighbor, is something the adults in the room in 1968 and in 2018, need to hear and to live by.

Rogers might be a little put off by a big movie coming about his life, starring mega-star Tom Hanks, but Hanks is the kind of star who is humble enough to pull it off, we think.

Rogers was unassuming as a person, and his show was unassuming. There weren’t special effects galore, nor did the puppets become show-hogging stars. Rather, there was a cast of characters all working as one for children, not for commercial gain.

A team of neighbors pulling together for the good of all.

Has that message become less relevant during the last 50 years?

It may get lost in the noise sometimes, but it’s as necessary today as it was in 1968.