Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Mr. Rogers Goes to Washington

Published in Blog. Tags: .

I don’t know where to find PBS on my digital cable subscription, or if I even get the network (I have to, somewhere, right?). And aside from NOVA, I can’t really think of a show that might land on the channel that I’d enjoy watching from time to time. I don’t have kids, nor do I have any idea about how beneficial the current state of children’s educational programming is on PBS, or whether or not a budget cut would retard a generation of preventative learning — that’s a fancy little term I’ve come up with to describe the benefits of edutainment that might help prevent an outpouring of later-life subsidies to cover a nation of under-educated, under-skilled, over-stuffed citizens who have no choice but to turn to the government for aid after two decades of freely roaming the land as a small army of dimwitted Honey Boo Boos. (For the record, cable programming makes me very nervous about the future of this planet.) I don’t know enough about the upsides or the downsides of Mitt Romney’s bold statements at last week’s Presidential debate to accurately invest myself in that conversation (besides, that’s what political blogs are for).

I will say this, however: I love this video. In response to the proposed budget cuts by President Nixon, Fred Rogers took the floor to deliver what remains one of the most rational and thoughtful arguments for the continuance of funding for developmental programming that might ever exist: Mere reference to the statement that Mr. Rogers made in 1969 in front of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications should be more than enough justification to keep backing this “liberal propaganda machine.”

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead — and think this song — I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime… And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

Enough about making a non-argument an argument though, because the point of bringing this up is to reflect on the compassion that Rogers spoke to while explaining himself. This isn’t just about funding some TV station that you don’t enjoy watching, this argument is about developing a national community with an understanding that our well-being and self-esteem are worth caring about. This is about nurturing the growth of young minds so that they know that they have meaning in this world, despite the overwhelming sentiment that drowns out the idea in daily life. This is about empowering young minds with the understanding that they are not some weak loser despite not meeting the cultural quota for cool, and it’s about showing children that the world is every bit as beautiful as you make it to be. I’m almost 30 and I wish that this message was pounded into my head every day NOW, let alone when I was young — this message of maintaining an honest regard for the care and well-being of self to better the larger society as a whole.

Would Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood even resonate with kids today if he were alive? Hell, did it even make sense when I was a kid? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. But without a nurturing system that encourages preventative learning we’re going to find out with increasingly speedy results just how distinct the disparity between the classes will become in our country… I’m not talking about the poverty line, necessarily, as much as the knowledge line — but in recognizing the illiteracy, ignorance, and uneducated population that exists even within my own community, the correlation between the two seems undeniable. Is there a direct link in avoiding this future and the shelling out of PBS’ $430 million annual budget? I don’t know. But to parallel the sentiment of Senator Pastore, a bet on the future of our children (let alone the children of those poor unfortunate families who only have basic network TV channels, and not some multi-tiered Comcast entertainment-explosion at their disposal like I do) seems like one that we should be willing to make.