Ted Talks: Looking Ahead with Mr. Rogers

Ted Graf, Head of School
One of the qualities I love about our school is that the sense of wonder and curiosity we so value in our classrooms stretches across all the different groups of the school. And one of the great joys in my role is that many of you suggest books, films, music, destinations, and podcasts. I have taken many of you up on your suggestions and the most recent one is an inspiring podcast called “Finding Fred,” suggested to me by Creek Campus Manager Jote Khalsa.
Here's the link to the podcast created by writer Carvell Wallace (you can learn more about Wallace here).

In the podcast, Wallace, a parent of a young child, is trying to understand why there is such an outpouring of curiosity and nostalgia for Fred Rogers in films, books, and other media. He is also trying to come to grips with how to raise his child in a climate where hate speech, xenophobia, outright derision, and disrespect are so prevalent.

As I look ahead to 2020, I do so with great hope but also with some trepidation. I’m hopeful because when I think about the school, we’re healthy; we’re open to learning about how we function, and we’re eager to improve; we’re excited to welcome 16 visitors from schools across the southwest in late January. But like Carvell Wallace, I must admit I hold some anxiety going into 2020--how will we respond if there is blatant hateful speech as part of the presidential primaries? How will we hold space and talk about it with our children, our students? What happens if one of our students or one of us carries some of the vitriol and name-calling onto our campuses? How do we continue to create a learning environment that is open to divergent opinions but not discriminatory ones?

In the recent movie about Mr. Rogers, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” he explains in the context of one of his episodes, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.” In the context of his program and millions of kids he reached, I took that to mean, if we can talk about it (i.e. divorce, death, assassination, war), then we can manage ourselves in the face of it.

The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, expresses some of what Fred Rogers and Wallace are exploring and some of what our school has always been about. Maybe this poem holds some suggestions for us about how we can choose to behave in the new year?

He Attempts to Love His Neighbours

My neighbours do not wish to be loved.
They have made it clear that they prefer to go peacefully
about their business and want me to do the same.
This ought not to surprise me as it does;
I ought to know by now that most people have a hundred things
they would rather do than have me love them.

There is a television, for instance; the truth is that almost everybody,
given the choice between being loved and watching TV,
would choose the latter. Love interrupts dinner,
interferes with mowing the lawn, washing the car,
or walking the dog. Love is a telephone ringing or a doorbell
waking you moments after you've finally succeeded in getting to sleep.

So we must be careful, those of us who were born with
the wrong number of fingers or the gift
of loving; we must do our best to behave
like normal members of society and not make nuisances
of ourselves; otherwise it could go hard with us.
It is better to bite back your tears, swallow your laughter,
and learn to fake the mildly self-deprecating titter
favored by the bourgeoisie
than to be left entirely alone, as you will be,
if your disconformity embarrasses
your neighbours; I wish I didn't keep forgetting that.

Like the speaker of the poem and like Mr. Rogers, may we continue to build a school that “keeps forgetting” that our neighbors do not wish to be loved; that our Purpose (to cultivate identity formation, foster empathy and embrace diversity to bring more peace to the world) may seem counter-cultural at this moment, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t needed; in fact, quite the opposite. May we love our neighbors, regardless of whether they love us back. And may we be brave enough in 2020 to pose the questions Wallace is posing and to remember that children learn by watching us--what we say and don’t say; what we do and don’t do.
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18 months to Pre-K
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Austin, TX 78745
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