Won't You Be My Neighbor: An Analysis of Fred Rodgers' Philosophy of Education and TV Show

Published: 2022-12-09
Won't You Be My Neighbor: An Analysis of Fred Rodgers' Philosophy of Education and TV Show
Type of paper:  Movie review
Categories:  Company Management Psychology United States Law
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1479 words
13 min read

Millions of children worldwide grew up watching Fred Rogers and regarded him as their childhood neighborhood friend. Fred Rodgers who was a Presbyterian minister by training was seen to be genuine in his personal life as the life of the onscreen character as portrayed to millions of children and even adults across the world who watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood; one of the most publicly broadcasted shows of the 1960s. Indeed, it was amazing how one man was able to produce one of the most successful as well as the longest running children's television programs and still stay true to his moral principles. His impact on the generational culture has abode. With the new release of his documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary on his world view and career, Mr. Rogers has surfaced back to the spotlight, reminding everyone of his philosophy of education and TV show as analyzed in this paper through the lens of theories related to the development of diverse children.

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One of the theories that significantly relate to Fred Rogers' philosophy of education on children is the Social and emotional learning theory. According to Durlak et al. (2011), social-emotional learning involves a wide range of skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can affect a student's success in school and life. In particular, this theory encompasses all the process through which both adults and children can acquire and effectively apply the right understanding and knowledge skills and attitude. This kind of knowledge can be useful in a person's life especially in children's lives to understand and manage emotions, relate well with others, set personal goals, make proper decisions and show empathy for others. Durlak et al. (2011) also believe that social and emotional learning, when brought to scale, has the potential of playing a crucial role in shaping our society away from systematic inequality and instability towards greater collaboration and partnership. These same ideas have also been reinforced by Fred Rogers as portrayed in his documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor. Despite being considered superfluous by some viewers, what makes Morgan Neville's documentary a necessity today is the fact that it portrays the main character, Rogers exactly what he seemed to be to the audience. To the children and to the adults who enjoy the show, Rogers was someone who devoted his life to taking seriously and at the same time, responded well to the emotions of children. In the movie, for instance, A little boy with a bowl haircut is seen confiding in Mr. Rogers about his pet being hit by a truck. To be precise, the boy is talking Daniel Striped Tiger, the hand puppet he believes to be like Rogers himself. He even goes ahead and hugs the Striped Tiger because Joanne, Mr. Rogers wife says the hand puppet is pretty much Fred. Ideally, just like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the show is slow, repetitive, deep and can be dark which is thoroughly and developmentally appropriate to education and child development.

The theory of moral development education is another theory that relates significantly to the teachings of Fred Rogers as well as his philosophy of education and TV show. Moral science has initially been focused purely on teaching values instead of focusing upon the moral development of a child. As Peters (2015) states, the main aim of moral education is the moral development of a child and can never be anything else, therefore, the focus of both parents and teachers must shift significantly from teaching moral values to supporting the moral development of the children they are involved with. Particularly, moral development of a child should not be assessed through obedience and compliance but instead, through certain values such as forthrightness, authenticity, honesty, and integrity as portrayed in the movie Won't You Be My Neighbor. This wonderful documentary is on similar education; about how to treat others and how to seriously deal with one's emotions. Won't You Be My Neighbor shows Fred Rogers' intellect and work ethic? He embodied kindness but never failed to remind his audience that anger is part of life. In most parts of his work and especially as portrayed in the documentary movie, he encouraged his young viewers to master their feelings of anger and always express them in a manner that does not affect others.

Diversity and issues of prejudices are complex problems that have led to wars, enslavement, abuse and untold suffering. According to Jackson (2011), diversity and issues of prejudice can color the one sees other people and may cause them to ignore crucial information he/she considers to contradict their prejudice. Indeed, even in Won't You Be My Neighbor? , Fred Rogers maintained the idea that adults were not to protect children by keeping information about tragedy, diversity, and hardship away from them but by helping them learn how to respond ins such instances. He main job as an actor and a Presbyterian minister as he stated in one of his interviews is to help young people through the difficult modulators of life which include emotional issues, diversity, and prejudices. This is clearly laid out in one of the scenes in Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor, where two men soak their feet together to cool off on a hot day. The scene which featured Francois Clemons was one of the ideas to promote diversity in the show and portrayed how black people at the time were being treated in the South. During this time in most places in America, black people were not allowed to share a swimming pool with white people. With this scene, Mr. Rogers was able to indicate to the young viewers the real issues that were happening in America; issues that other parents would have kept away from their children. Later in the episode, viewers further learn that Clemons is actually gay, however, Rogers' response to the news is what truly sets the author apart as a champion for the development of diverse children.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology which is always represented by in a five-tier model and heavily relates to Fred Rogers' philosophy of education and TV show. According to Gawel (1997), Abraham Maslow in his paper of 1943 proposed that healthy people have a certain needs which can be arranged hierarchically depending on the significance of each need. From the top of the hierarchy downwards, these needs are self-actualization, esteem, love, and belonging, safety and physiology. Even though man people criticized this theory, majorly as lacking scientific grounding and being overly schematic this theory presents a critical ground for human motivation as portrayed in Fred Rogers' documentary. After all, one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach. As the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor describes, Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to connect to his viewers especially the children and along the way managed to deal with certain controversial issues. One such issue was the need for love. In the show, Mr. Rogers always had his own personal numerology code for I love you weighing himself every day on the number of times he said those words. Even the title "Won't You Be My Neighbor", has hidden meaning which is an invitation for someone to be close. He embraced Officer Clemons in a time when racism and segregation were at its peak; even after learning that Clemons is actually gay. Similarly, Mr. Rogers also uplifted many children by letting them know that being oneself is enough. To him, it was the utmost importance that all children are liked and appreciated and therefore helped them acknowledge their feelings of fear and self-doubt, how to reinsure themselves during difficult times.

In conclusion, through the lens of theories related to the development of diverse children, Mr. Rogers in the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? teaches some important lessons on child education and development. For instance, through the theory of social and emotional learning, Fred teaches the values understanding children's emotions. Similarly, through the theory of moral development education, the documentary teachers how to treat others and how to seriously deal with one's emotions. Again through diversity and issues of prejudice, Mr. Rogers was able to show the young viewers the real issues that were happening in America; issues that other parents would have kept away from their children. Finally, in the documentary, Mr. Rogers was able to highlight the significance of fulfilling human needs such as love and self-actualization through Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A metaanalysis of schoolbased universal interventions. Child development, 82(1), 405-432.

Gawel, J. E. (1997). Herzberg's theory of motivation and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 5(11), 3.

Jackson, L. M. (2011). The psychology of prejudice: From attitudes to social action. American Psychological Association.

Peters, R. S. (2015). Moral Development and Moral Education (Routledge Revivals). Routledge.

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Won't You Be My Neighbor: An Analysis of Fred Rodgers' Philosophy of Education and TV Show. (2022, Dec 09). Retrieved from https://speedypaper.com/essays/wont-you-be-my-neighbor-an-analysis-of-fred-rodgers-philosophy-of-education-and-tv-show

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