Carnegie Mellon University

May 2023 Director's Corner: Our Neighborhood

In this series of articles, I have reflected on Fred Rogers’ timeless priorities for “raising creative, curious, caring neighbors and citizens – people who can build stronger, more inclusive communities and a more just and loving world” (p. 7). In presentations at the National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers (N4C) and the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) conferences, Mrs. Sweet, Mrs. Bird, and I have shared our educators’ reflections on Behr and Rydzewski’s 2021 book, When You Wonder, You’re Learning, as instrumental in our steps toward “the new important” in the current global context. Interestingly, these priorities align beautifully with the indigenous perspectives for repairing the world, as shared in a keynote address at the IALS conference by Dr. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair, who is Anishinaabe and a professor in Native Studies at U. Manitoba, Canada. In their epilogue, Behr and Rydzewski stress that, “What was ‘normal’ yesterday doesn’t have to define tomorrow” (p. 208). Similarly, Sinclair emphasized that laboratory schools are ideal places to begin adopting Anishinaabe ways that can bring peace and justice to all. If fact, he encouraged us that, in many ways, we have already begun.

Dr. Sinclair emphasized that the Anishinaabe accept the mystery in the world and aim to “reconcile the why?”. In many ways, this approach resonates with the priority on Curiosity, but the Anishinaabe attention to the mysteries of nature yields a deeper sense of responsible and sustainable inquiry. With respect to Learning and Growing, the Anishinaabe identify the most important teachers as the elders and the children, which is why they dedicate so much time to intergenerational interactions. Such interactions promote the “deep listening and loving speech” that Rogers noted as so important to Communication and helps children build the trusting relationships that both the Anishinaabe and Rogers recognized as an essential foundation for learning. Similarly, both the Anishinaabe and Rogers emphasize the principle of loving and being loved as central to human Connection. The Anishinaabe go a step further, however, by emphasizing the need to reconnect to the land, by taking the time to listen, watch, and share with both the land and with others.

According to Dr. Sinclair, the Anishinaabe think that each individual’s “job is to be a gift giver”. For Rogers, each of us can use our Creativity to innovate in ways that enrich the world for everyone. Because everyone has a gift to give, the Anishinaabe clans are egalitarian, using “the circle” to share everyone’s ideas and make decisions. In much the same way, Rogers emphasized Collaboration to build bridges through cooperation and compromise, using diversity as a strength to forge “richer and more original and more enduring” (p. 118) ways to do the difficult work of repairing the world. In addition, life, love, and learning are all intertwined in the Anishinaabe community because they all take place within the same lodge. In a way, that notion is similar to Fred Rogers’ “neighborhood”, both the real one and the “Neighborhood of Make Believe.”

Now, it is our job to contribute our unique gifts to help build the neighborhood, the Children’s School neighborhood, the Pittsburgh neighborhood, or whatever neighborhoods we call our home for life, love, and learning. Behr and Rydzewski close by saying that, “Every day … parents, educators, and young people themselves are doing what Rogers did – combining timeless ideas with new ways of learning to make the world more accepting, more compassionate, and more humane” (p. 209). Perhaps the summer months will give us opportunities to reconnect with each other and with the land in ways that help us acknowledge with gratitude the gifts we have received and have to offer.