Long Live Fred Rogers

mr_rogersIt’s been seven years since Fred Rogers died, so it’s not exactly a surprise that the era of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is waning on television. But the announcement that WMVS-TV (Channel 10) is discontinuing weekday broadcasts of “Mister Rogers”gives fresh reason to mourn his absence and praise what he did for several decades-worth of very young children. 

In 2001, Marquette University presented Mister Rogers with an honorary degree. I was a  reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time and I proposed going to Pittsburgh, Mister Rogers’ long-time home and the base for his programs, to do a profile story to run in conjunction with presentation of the degree.

 I don’t claim to have been professionally neutral in approaching this. My own children had watched the show almost daily when they were pre-schoolers and, overcoming my initial adult-based reaction, I had come to think the program was a work of genius. (I bet everyone who scoffs at that is not between three and five years old.)

If you looked at the show through a child’s eyes, it had very substantial content – over time, Mr. Rogers dealt with issues such as divorce, death, fear, loss, and a wide array of relationship matters. Sometimes very directly (“It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive” or “People like you just the way you are”) and sometimes through the context of what he did (the gentleness, the way his fantasy characters treated each other, good and bad), his character education messages were healthy, well developed, and (I hope) formative to millions of children.

Continue ReadingLong Live Fred Rogers

Are There Any Tories On Tory Hill?

fairlie3In a few months, the Marquette University Law School community will pack up and move to its new building, located on Tory Hill.  Perhaps this is a good time to consider whether any actual “Tories” will reside there.  This is doubtful, because American political thought does not have a history of embracing the Tory philosophy.  Nonetheless, in today’s political climate, we all might benefit from hearing an occasional Tory point of view.    

The Republican Party in America currently stands at a crossroads.  There has been a great deal of debate within the political punditry concerning whether the Tea Party movement is a positive or a negative development for the Republican Party.  Some observers have noted the friction between the rage being expressed by Tea Party activists at the government bailout of the financial markets and at the expansion of government regulation of the health care sector, on the one hand, and the more business and government friendly track record of establishment Republican officials on the other.  This friction was most evident last month, when conservative activists rejected the establishment candidate put forth by party leaders for the 23rd Congressional District in New York, split the Republican vote, and delivered the seat to a Democrat.   

Similarly, Sarah Palin’s book tour has engendered speculation about her future political plans.  Some have applauded her anti-Washington and anti-big government philosophy as reflective of the public‘s current attitudes.  In the wake of the Administration of President George W. Bush, who spoke like a “States’ Rights” Texas governor while simultaneously expanding the federal government in the name of education and national security, many conservatives look to the former Alaska governor as someone who might actually govern in accord with a political philosophy that promotes decentralized government.  However, other observers have questioned whether Sarah Palin’s appeal extends beyond regional and rural areas of the country.

Democrats have their own problems.

Continue ReadingAre There Any Tories On Tory Hill?

Leading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies

teacherEvery now and then someone says something that really sticks with you. About a year ago, I had a conversation with Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the huge, nationwide teachers union. The foundation has made Milwaukee a major focus in recent years, giving more than $2 million to Milwaukee Public Schools, generally for developing the skills of teachers in low-performing schools.

Sanford was describing how things were going in other cities where the foundation was involved. She was enthusiastic about the impact in Seattle of a program in which teachers worked to get parents more involved in schools.  It was having documentable positive effects on how kids were doing.

I said that I thought a lot of teachers do what they can in school to meet kids’ needs, but basically throw up their hands when it comes to doing something about kids’ lives at home or motivating parents to do a better job of being allies of their children’s success in school.

Sanford said she was convinced that things could be done, that they didn’t cost a lot, and they could be as simple as having teachers pay visits to children’s homes, just to establish rapport and give some tips on what helps get a kid ready for school.

It may make me sound naive, but this really had an impact on my thinking about teacher-parent relations. I just had kind of written that off. But maybe we don’t need to despair about this, and maybe schools in Milwaukee that have been too passive about reaching out positively and firmly to parents.

All of which is to say I was very pleased to see the Journal Sentinel series this week, “Beyond the Bell: Making the Home-School Connection.”

Continue ReadingLeading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies