Legacies of Caring: Fred Rogers & Rachel Carson

Spring is here at the Fred Rogers Center, and we are so thankful it is not silent. Birds outside our office windows hunt for worms while dandelions pop up everywhere. The Center itself was built with the environment in mind. From our geothermal heating and cooling system, to our energy-efficient lights, we are dedicated to preserving natural resources and being as “green” as possible. In fact, our building has been awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification.

While we preserve and further the legacy of Fred Rogers, we also celebrate the natural world. This spring we are thinking not only about Fred’s words regarding the environment, but Rachel Carson’s as well.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have had these two great neighbors who cared a great deal about children and the environment. Carson was known best for Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us, her pioneering works documenting the environmental impact of human and industrial activities. She was an environmental activist before most people had even heard of that term. She was labeled a “troublemaker” and discredited by “scientists” from the chemical industry. Fred Rogers, of course, was the agreeable host of the popular children’s program.  According to some, even he had his own “counter-cultural” themes. (Listen to a discussion of Fred’s work in that regard here.)

Carson and Fred were pioneers in their respective fields, each publicly calling for change. Through Silent Spring Carson warned of the damaging effects of chemicals on our planet, while Fred, throughout his career, was concerned with the quality of children’s television programs and the dangers of violence on television. Both visionaries hoped to inspire officials and the public to become more active in fighting for what is good and healthy for us, and rejecting what is harmful. Fred’s 1969 address to the U.S. Senate could be considered his own Silent Spring.  He spoke out against the “bombardment” of violent images through television to families and demanded high quality programming for children. His groundbreaking speech helped to secure funding for public television.

These two Pittsburghers have certainly made lasting, positive changes in our world. From our archival research, we don’t believe the two of them ever met, but their lives and work led them to very similar places. Read the quotes below and guess who said what.

“If you were a fish, you wouldn’t want somebody dumping garbage into your home. Every fish is fancy in one way or another. There is something fancy about every creature in the world. Each person, each fish, each animal, each bird, each living creature.”

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share … the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in. I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.”

The first quote was from Fred in his 1990 episode with Marine Biologist Sylvia Earle. The second comes from a photographic essay by Rachel Carson, published after her death, called the “The Sense of Wonder.” Carson, who adopted her grand-nephew, wrote about seeing the wonder of nature through a child’s eyes. Fred also wrote an essay about children and adults appreciating the natural world together, titled “Caring for Our Planet: Care That’s Caught.”

The best way to engage our children, at least according to Rachel Carson and Fred Rogers, is to inspire that sense of wonder about nature. It’s this wonder that leads to appreciation and to caretaking – and caring for our common home is intricately woven into our sense of caring for each other.

What are some ways that parents and caregivers can inspire children’s interest in the environment?  Fred offered his wisdom through his publications and television programs. To accompany his week of programs focusing on “The Environment,” Fred wrote, “When we turn off lights and when we turn paper over to use the back of it, when we gather newspapers for recycling, and even when we marvel at a sunset, we send loud and clear messages to our children that caring for our planet is important to us…Attitudes are ‘caught,’ not taught!” In other words, demonstrating your care for the natural world is the best way to teach children about environmental concerns.

Here’s a thoughtful and inspiring excerpt from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where Fred Rogers is speaking with Sylvia Earle after both had taken a dive into the sea. It seemed to represent the intersection between two of Pittsburgh’s pioneers.

Fred: What can we do to take care of places like this, these seas of ours?

Sylvia: One of the important things is to do just what we were doing, to get out and know the place. It’s hard to care about something if you don’t understand it, if you haven’t seen it. So being in the sea is an important step in the right direction. Get to know the fish, get to see the corals, and understand how they live. When we do (understand), it’s hard not to care about them.

We at the Fred Rogers Center wish you a happy Earth Day. Go out and see the earth, feel the water, and breathe and wonder and care.


Emily Uhrin is Archivist at the Fred Rogers Center, and studies Fred Rogers’ work to inform programs at the Fred Rogers Center. Junlei Li, Ph.D. is Professor of Early and Learning and Children’s Media and serves as the Center’s Co-Director.

Photo courtesy of The Lynn Johnson Collection: Ohio University Libraries.

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