Why public media?

‘I give an expression of care
every day to each child’

Mister Rogers gives the senator some goosebumps

Remarks by Fred Rogers

Probably the most famous congressional testimony delivered on behalf of CPB appropriations came from Fred Rogers on May 2, 1969. The young writer/producer/host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made common cause with Sen. John Pastore (D-R.I.), who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee’s communications subcommittee. Public broadcasting was seeking an appropriation of $20 million, and the Nixon White House was proposing half as much.

Margaret Mary Kimmel and Mark Collins narrate the scene in their book, The Wonder of It All: Fred Rogers and the Story of an Icon (PDF, scroll to page 20).

“It’s a strange moment in the hallowed halls of the Senate,” Kimmel and Collins write — “a grown man reciting a child’s song to other grown men, but by now they feel as if they, too, are complicit in Rogers’ mission.”

A video and transcription of the hearing testimony are below. Public TV leader Hartford Gunn introduced Rogers.

Pastore: All right, Rogers — you’ve got the floor.

Rogers: Sen. Pastore, this is a philosophical statement and would take about 10 minutes to read, so I’ll not do that.

One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you have said that you will read this. It’s very important to me. I care deeply about children.

Pastore: Will it make you happy if you read it?

Rogers: I’d just like to talk about it, if it’s all right.

My first children’s program was on WQED 15 years ago, and its budget was $30. Now, with the help of the Sears Roebuck Foundation and National Educational Television, as well as all of the affiliated stations  — each station pays to show our program; it’s a unique kind of funding in educational television — with this help, now our program has a budget of $6,000.

It may sound like quite a difference, but $6,000 pays for less than two minutes of cartoons. Two minutes of animated, what I sometimes say, bombardment. I’m very much concerned, as I know you are, about what’s being delivered to our children in this country. And I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now, trying to understand the inner needs of children. We deal with such things as … as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make him — to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters, and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively.

Pastore: How long a program is it?

Rogers: It’s a half-hour every day. Most channels schedule it in the noontime as well as in the evening. WETA here has scheduled it in the late afternoon.

Pastore: Could we get a copy of this so that we can see it? Maybe not today, but I’d like to see the program.

Rogers: I’d like very much for you to see it.

Pastore: I’d like to see the program itself, or any one of them, you see.

Rogers: We made a hundred programs for EEN, the Eastern Educational Network, and then when the money ran out, people in Boston and Pittsburgh and Chicago all came to the fore and said we’ve got to have more of this neighborhood expression of care. And this is what — this is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.”

And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing, and for 15 years I have tried in this country and Canada to present what I feel is a meaningful expression of care.

Pastore: Do you narrate it?

Rogers: I’m the host, yes. And I do all the puppets and I write all the music, and I write all the scripts …

Rogers’ testimony about children’s needs resonated with Pastore (pictured) and the other former children in the hearing room.

Pastore: Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps for the last two days.

Rogers: Well, I’m grateful, not only for your goose bumps, but for your interest in — in our kind of communication. Could I tell you the words of one of the songs, which I feel is very important?

Pastore: Yes.

Rogers: This has to do with that good feeling of control, which I feel that children need to know is there. And it starts out, “What do you do with the mad that you feel?” And that first line came straight from a child. I work with children doing puppets in — in very personal communication with small groups:

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.’

Pastore: I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful.

Looks like you just earned the $20 million. [Laughter and applause]

Transcription from video verified.
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