Look For the Helpers

My wife and I finally got the chance to see the documentary about Mister Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, and it was well worth the wait.

The film, which has a 99% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, was phenomenal.

To say he was one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever seen would be an understatement.

The film provided a brief history of how Mister Rogers got started in TV, and then offered clips from his show as well as interviews with his family, his friends, and his colleagues.

The film brought me to tears a few times; just seeing how good he was with young children, and his willingness to talk about big issues with them, such as death, divorce, war, and assassination was quite moving.

When clips from other kids’ TV shows that were popular at the same time were interspersed with clips from Mister Rogers show, you can see the care and love that Mister Rogers put into each show, and just how shallow those other kids’ shows were.

There were many memorable scenes from the movie

  • Mister Rogers, through his hand puppet David, talking to a little boy about death
  • Mister Rogers befriending Koko the gorilla
  • Mister Rogers washing his feet with Officer Clemmons, a black man
  • Mister Rogers testifying before Congress in order to save funding for PBS

But to me, the most heartfelt scene was when Mister Rogers was talking with Jeff Erlanger, a 10-year-old quadriplegic. Here’s part of the original clip, a portion of which played in the movie:

In a time of so much divisiveness, that’s the kind of message we need to be hearing. The movie should be required viewing for all people in the U.S., especially parents and teachers. And as a bonus, you’ll get to learn the secret behind the number 143.

I can’t recommend this movie highly enough; in fact, I’m strongly considering buying a cardigan (or two) to wear whenever I teach as a tribute to Mister Rogers and to remind me of what kind of teacher and person he was.

I’ll close with one of his well-known quotes:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Mister Rogers was the ultimate helper.

P.S. Tom Hanks-as-Fred Rogers film, ‘You Are My Friend,’ begins shooting in Pittsburgh this fall.

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