Full PreFrontal

Ep. 163: Gregg Behr & Ryan Rydzewski - When You Wonder, You're Learning

September 09, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 163
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 163: Gregg Behr & Ryan Rydzewski - When You Wonder, You're Learning
Show Notes Transcript

“I like you exactly the way you are.” These are the words brought to life by beloved TV host, Fred Rogers, and seems to be exactly what children need to know and experience that they are valued and loved. As  culture has taken the time to pause and reflect on the powerful teachings of Mr. Rogers in the heavily consumed medium of television, the evidence in the neuroscience, learning, and developmental psychology shows how deeply effective his methodologies have been all along. With multiple documentaries, a bestselling biography, and a movie starring Tom Hanks, the world of child rearing and education has seen a Mister Rogers’ renaissance over the past few years and it is time to take these lessons to heart.

On this episode, authors of the book When You Wonder, You're Learning, Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation and science and education writer Ryan Rydzewski discuss “the Fred method”, a blueprint left behind by Mr. Fred Rogers that honors the potential in every child to come into oneself. Pause, reflect and then respond is a primary lesson fervently put into practice by Mr. Rogers and also seems to be the practice that promotes executive function and self-agency in every child.

About Gregg Behr
Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation, is a father and children’s advocate whose work is inspired by his hero, Fred Rogers. For more than a decade, he has helped lead Remake Learning—a network of educators, scientists, artists, and makers he founded in 2007—to international renown. Formed in Rogers’ real-life neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Remake Learning has turned heads everywhere from Forbes to the World Economic Forum for its efforts to ignite children’s curiosity, encourage creativity, and foster justice and belonging in schools, libraries, museums, and more. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and also Duke University, Gregg holds honorary degrees from Carlow University and Saint Vincent College. He’s an advisor to the Brookings Institution and the Fred Rogers Center, and has been cited by Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and the Disruptor Foundation as an innovator and thought leader.

About Ryan Rydzewski
Ryan Rydzewski is a writer whose science and education reporting has garnered several awards and fellowships. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he taught elementary school in south Louisiana before earning an MFA in nonfiction writing from Chatham University. As a freelancer, his magazine stories focus on everything from schools to space travel to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and his poems and other pieces appear in several journals. A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Ryan lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Jacqueline.

Book: When You Wonder, You're Learning: Mister Rogers' Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids

Websites:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal where we expose the mysteries of executive function. As you know, executive function is one's ability to manage self in the context of the world, by understanding who we are, what our strengths and challenges, what our mission and goals are, and how to put effort to meet the purpose of your life. However, children, as you can imagine, are still in the process of discovering what their purpose should be. And they're very much dependent on adults to guide them. And two important characteristics that strike me in that aid. The process of enhancing and exfoliating I like to call executive function is kindness and compassion. And today we are going to talk to two most beautiful people who have taken their life's commitment and wrapped it in a beautiful book. But we're going to talk about my favorite icon or human being, Mr. Fred Rogers. So before I introduce them, I just want to kind of share this, that Webster's dictionary list following synonyms for the word imagination, creativity, imaginativeness, creativeness vision, inspiration, inventiveness, invention resourcefulness in January, originality, innovation and innovativeness, executive function refers to adaptive resourcefulness, one needs to exercise their own one's own skills and actions to attain goals, persist, and act and act in a way that moves you through the world in a collaborative and cooperative mindset. You can pursue your goals in a selfish way, while you're pursuing and attaining your goals, you may be harming other people, or blocking other people's ability to achieve goals. And that's not good executive function. And people with strong executive function tend to be more creative, resourceful, and adept in not just solving problems, but directing attention and effort to do the same for themselves so that they are a contributing member. And with that in mind, today, it's my privilege to introduce Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski. So let me start with Gregg and Gregg is the executive director of the global foundation. He is the father and children's advocate whose work is inspired by his hero, Fred Rogers. You can see this is how you really pay homage to your hero write a book about him. And for more than a decade, he has helped lead, Remake Learning, a network of educators, scientists, artists and makers he founded in 2007, to international renown. Formed in Rogers real life neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Remake Learning has turned heads everywhere, from Forbes to the World Economic Forum for its effort to ignite children's curiosity, and encourage creativity and foster justice and belonging in schools, libraries, museums, and more. There's a lot more to talk about him. But let's pay attention to Ryan and Ryan Rydzewski. His he is a writer who's a writer who science and education reporting has garnered garnered several awards and fellowships. He's a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, he taught Elementary School in South Louisiana, before earning his MFA in nonfiction writing from Chatham University. He is a freelancer, and his magazine stories focus on everything from school, to space travel to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and his poems, and other pieces appear in several journals. So welcome to both of you. How are you today? 

Gregg Behr: We're great. It's such a privilege to be here alongside you Sucheta, thank you. 

Ryan Rydzewski: Thank you so much for having us. 

Sucheta Kamath: It's going to be a wonderful conversation. I already feel it. So before I start talking about our topic today, the book that you have both written, let's start with you to what has made you curious, or can you tell a little bit of origin story of your own curiosity as little children, maybe?

Gregg Behr: Well, I'm going to talk about it as a big kid. Oh, yes, this is Gregg, you mentioned in your introduction, that I'm a dad. And I mentioned this because I feel like once my daughters were born about a decade before, a decade ago, I started learning again, what it means to be playful and to wonder and to draw upon some of those curiosities from childhood, a behavior that maybe I unlearned a little bit, and that they have taught me to learn again, and to value as an adult. And so when I think about curiosity and curiosity, I think we have layers in our lives and chapters in our lives. And my daughters have opened up a whole new chapter for me about thinking big thoughts and imagining possibilities in the world.

Sucheta Kamath: I really like that because I think Let's not just restrict curiosity and imagination to children. You know, I think it should be a lifelong process. I appreciate that. How about you, Ryan?

Ryan Rydzewski: I think for me, yeah, certainly it started in childhood, I was surrounded, luckily enough to be surrounded by so many great books. For me, it really started with reading and it started reading with yes, some of your typical children's books. But I had a grandfather who was very into things like National Geographic. And so I, I grew up reading that and Time magazine when I was in like fourth grade, which was unusual reading material for a kid, but I think it instilled wonder about the world. And I can still remember reading about things like the Capybara's, these little animals in Madagascar, I can remember reading about, you know, the Challenger explosion, I can remember reading about all these things in the world that I can trace my interests as an adult back to reading and reading those books and seeing those pictures and just realizing how much was out there, and how much more I wanted to know about it all.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, you both remind me of Jonathan Gottschild, who's written stories of I forget the title of his book, but he has written 10 you know, 10 ways stories dominate your life. And he talks about that, you know, this dreams and and religion, song, fantasies, in video games, TV commercials, and, and even conspiracy theories, nonfiction and life stories. And I love that so many ways we can be influenced but sounds like you were very open, not just as children, but adults. So let's just since we're going to focus our conversation about on the book that you wrote, when you wonder you're learning Mr. Rogers, enduring lessons for raising creative, curious and carrying kids. First question is, what's your relationship with Mr. Rogers? And why write a book?

Gregg Behr: Well, first and foremost, Ryan and I are both western Pennsylvania kids. So I mentioned that to say, because Fred Rogers too, was a western Pennsylvania kid. And he happened to produce his iconic television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, right here in Pittsburgh at WQED television, America's first public television station. And Ryan and I had the privilege of watching that show as we were growing up watching it alongside our families. And in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, we saw our own communities, our own houses, our own community centers, our own art centers. I don't think we realized that at the time, but certainly as adults looking back, it was our neighborhood that we were, we had the privilege of watching, I did have the great opportunity to, to meet Fred Rogers as an adult. And then Ryan and I have both had the privilege to have working alongside and with some of the extraordinary people that worked with Mr. Rogers on what was then called Family Communications today is called Fred Rogers productions. And so we've gotten to know Fred through his contemporaries who did the work with him. And then, maybe in a personal way, we had the privilege of getting to know Joanne Rogers, Mrs. Rogers, who was extraordinary in her own right, couldn't possibly have been a better champion for us and for this book, and how lucky we are that she wrote the foreword, yes, for this book that we've written. And one of our deep regrets about this year is that she passed away. And we did, we didn't get to give that final production piece to her, especially given how much she had done to support us. 

Ryan Rydzewski: One of the things that that has been most moving, you know, upon the release of this book is, when we talk about this book to people in Pittsburgh, everybody has a Fred story, everybody, you know, people who grew up here, they knew him, he was their actual neighbor. And so everybody, you know, they share with us these little moments where they'll maybe maybe their best friend in an elevator or at a fundraiser. And Fred will remember a little detail about their life. And six months later, they'll get a note from him referencing that moment that they met, he recognized, I think Fred has such a whole emotional hold on all of us, because he recognized how much those little moments matter. So we're extraordinarily grateful to have had him and in many ways, I think he's with us still.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, that's, I think that's going to time into the next question I'm going to ask you because Fred Rogers is a legend. And what I see is a is a kickstart, of a renaissance of Fred Rogers philosophy. And so, let's start there. You know, Fred Rogers is less of a TV host, even though he produced more than 900 shows, you know, he is an author but less of an author because he's more of something else. To say, and commencement speeches and, and so many other things. But what he was was he was almost a learning scientist. He he was almost an educational specialist. And truly, you know, his background tells it all but he, to me, he was a polymath, you know, he was a musician. He was a music writer. He was a composer. He directed he wrote the scripts, and he produced so foot. Let's start there, who was Mr. Rogers as an individual and what strikes you about his approach, but only a polymath can do that? Because he was not so tunnel vision, right?

Ryan Rydzewski: He was I like that word, polymath. He was a generalist. He was extraordinarily talented in a number of fields, because I mean, he really put a lot of work in. You mentioned earlier that he was a musician. So Fred Rogers born in Latrobe, which is a small town sort of right outside of Pittsburgh, he went to undergraduate for to learn piano music composition. Then he enrolled in the wood became the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, studied religion studied philosophy. And while he was there, he also studied at the arsenal Children's Center, which at the time, this was in the late 1950s. Folks like Benjamin Spock, and Erik Erikson and Rogers mentor, Margaret McFarland, some of the top learning scientists in the world. These were psychologists and psychiatrists, and pediatricians, they all happen to be working in Pittsburgh at the same time, in walks a young Fred Rogers, bringing his music background, bringing his religious and his philosophical background, learning the science and then blending it with this beautiful art with puppetry with set design, with songs and stories, building what became Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, I think, without that generalist background with that, without that polymath tendency that you mentioned, I don't know that we would have the neighborhood because it really is rooted in all of those. And of course, we see we remember the art, music, and how he made us feel. What our book hopefully does is elucidate that everything he did on that program, everything he did in the neighborhood, was grounded in science, and it was grounded in science, it was not only cutting edge for his day, it's still applicable, maybe even more so today.

Gregg Behr: And so check that deserves to be underlined, you yourself use the phrase learning scientist, I don't think most of us that have that memory of Fred Rogers think of him as a learning scientist. We think of him as that warm, loving person on the other side of our screens. I think today we think of him as an American icon. And certainly recent films and biographies have contributed to that sense of legacy. And Fred Rogers was a learning scientist, we didn't use those words, decades ago, I'm not even sure there were formal fields of study in higher education in what we're learning about learning itself with the learning sciences, but to hear those names of individuals with whom Fred Rogers studied, or from whom he benefited, that is a Mount Rushmore of child development specialists of the 20th century, and his work springs, right from their instruction, their guidance, the atmosphere for learning that they created for him. And, and it was that deliberate and intentional scientific approach that he took to his work that was so pivotal, and that really is the basis and the aha for our book, that Fred Rogers was a learning scientist.

Sucheta Kamath: I think you said it deliberate and intentional, nothing, it may sound off the cuff, simple remark, but everything was very thoughtful and deeply connected to some principle of learning, even though a, and you know, even though it never would occur to people because of the simplicity. So I like the way I like you, just the way you are is what Mr. Rogers said to each and every child in the neighborhood. There are three principles to me that that strike me considering my own background, as a specialist who teaches children to learn how to learn, number one was expressed your feelings openly and freely which he says I like you to tell somebody I like you is quite intimidating to is this capacity to observe that ability to see the other person fully just the way you know, I love that his capacity he he was so authentic, that's the word that often is described. And lastly, the unconditional acceptance or the ability to meet others where wherever they are. So no more. No wonder people call him emotional archeologist. So how do adults charged to teach and raise children imbibe these principles. 

Gregg Behr: Ryan do you want to take that first as a former teacher?

Ryan Rydzewski: Well, that's a it's a good question. It's a big question. And I think you started with your first principle, express yourself freely. Fred used to say that anything, that's mentionable can become more manageable. I love and even though we tend to remember the neighborhood as this sort of happy, warm, comfortable place we sometimes forget. And in fact, it really didn't strike Gregg and I until we went back to, to watch so many these episodes. There are some hard things in the neighborhood. You know, Fred talked about racism, Fred talked about war, Fred talked about death and divorce. He didn't hide the hard realities of the world from children. But what he did do was make them feel safe enough enough to express their feelings about it, he made them feel safe enough to be shy about it, he made them feel safe enough, again, to be fully who they are. Because I think, you know, if we show children that their emotions aren't okay, if we show children that we're going to judge them for the way they feel for having these big emotions over which they have no control, and sometimes no understanding of why they're feeling a certain way, then they're not going to share them. We're never going to get to the root of why children are feeling the way that they are. I think Fred's message I like you just the way you are. Is it I like it, because it's simple, but it's also somewhat revolutionary. It's very brave. It's easy. Yeah, to say, yes, we're going to like everyone just the way they are. But then spend some time with that person, you're not always going to like them in that moment. What Fred tells kids, but Fred tells everybody is that all of you, your happy moments, your proud moments, and your angry moments and your sad moments. It's all okay, we can all bring those fully human emotions to to whatever situation we happen to be in, and it's okay, we're not going to judge one another for our feelings, we're going to make each other feel safe enough to be able to talk about those feelings. And I think that that's why that's what made the neighborhood's so powerful. And I think it's a large reason why we're over. I have such fond feelings for it today. Because for a lot of us, we weren't always told that our feelings were okay. Fred himself used to say that he grew up in a household where anger was not okay. So what do you do with an angry feeling if you're not allowed to express it, Fred really helped kids work through issues like that, and to watch him at work and to understand the science and the principles he was using in the neighborhood. It's, it's to watch a master at work.

Gregg Behr: What I love so much about that simple phrase that we all remember, I like you just the way you are, can be encapsulated in one word. And that's noticing. Essentially, Fred was saying, I noticed you Yeah. And to Ryan's comments, when you say I noticed you, that means I respect you. And I respect your big feelings and your big questions and your little feelings and your little questions. I am going to give you a sense of safety. This is a safe place, I noticed you, you're safe here, you belong here. And it's those sensibilities that one conveys in that phrase, I like you just the way you are. Now, I think it's important, because there's been criticism over the years. As if that doesn't mean you don't have work to do, or there's not hard work to do. Right? That wasn't what Fred was saying. He's saying, I noticed you, I respect you. And we're in a place that we're going to learn together. And we're going to work hard at that and practice that, that. I think some people have taken that phrase, I like to just the way you are as as somehow conveying, like, you don't need to do anything more.

Ryan Rydzewski: Yeah, it's different from saying, you're perfect. You know, it's different from saying everything you think everything you do is okay, or everything you think everything you do is great. Fred never did that. What he did tell children by saying I like you, just the way you are, is that I'm never going to reject your humanity. I'm never going to reject I love your full complicated self. And it's in not reject. It's in that acceptance. It's in that non rejecting children that that we can begin to do that work. And Gregg mentioned, to get to wherever it is that we want to be.

Sucheta Kamath: And I tell you, this is a lifelong process. It doesn't need it doesn't apply to children, right? I love this play that came in the 90s you remember, "I love you. You're perfect. No change" I don't know if you remember that play. Yes, it was a comedy, but I do see that. I see a tug between parents and children, parents feel leniency somehow is excessive permissiveness. They just do not understand accepting the entirety of a person. And and being with that, as you said, humanity of somebody, but not lowering your expectation or totally to different processes, they don't short sell one over the other. And I think that's just the real art, I just see more demand or clarity of, you know, setting rules and, and being firm as a sign of loving. I hit you because I love you. It's like, you know, and and so I think last question I had about this particular topic before we start talking about curiosity. Is this making, making children believe that unconditional acceptance that you matter to me? Do you think it's lame? I know the answer. But the educators why why do we not see that in abundance in educational context? Why educational environments are so sterile?

Gregg Behr: When it comes to seeing an abundance in the classrooms and libraries? And after school programs have master educators? Yes, yes, yes. And we use this phrase earlier about the atmosphere for learning, in which Fred Rogers was immersed at the arsenal, Children's Center with those 20th century child development experts. What great educators do is exactly that is they create an atmosphere for learning. Because they recognize that we can even start to think about creativity and curiosity and working together, we can start to think about those types of pursuit of those skills and those mindsets, unless we create conditions where kids feel psychologically and physically safe, where they do feel like they belong, where they feel like their questions are respected, where they feel like they are loved. And as Fred Rogers said, loved and capable of loving that that grounding is fundamental. And you know, so often today, it's talked about in terms of social emotional learning. And it's that and so much more. It really is about creating that environment for learning where there's that level of I'm here, I belong here. I have a sense of agency here. Now, what can we do?

Sucheta Kamath: Hmm, so do you both agree politeness is not kindness? 

Ryan Rydzewski: I do. Yeah, sure. I love Fred's message of kindness. I love you know how nice Fred could seem. But I think there's a difference between being kind or just being nice and showing your humanity that's, that's what we talked to someone in the book named Dr. Aisha White. Yes. She She says, you know, we can't gloss over hard things. Just because we want to be nice to each other. In fact, by glossing over hard things, I think we're doing a disservice. We want to be nice. We want to be kind. But more than anything, we want to recognize the humanity and wonder one another. That's not always kind in the way that we think of it. But it ultimately I think it's the kindest thing we can do for one another.

Gregg Behr: You know, Sucheta, I've never been asked that question before. And it's so interesting, because as Ryan was speaking, I was thinking as an adult, right, you go to community meetings, you go to business meetings, and in these parts of the world we call Pittsburgh Polite. I'm sure they call it different things in different cities.

Sucheta Kamath: We live in the south. So you know, very polite.

Gregg Behr: But in the context of being polite, we're not being kind because we're not surfacing the hard questions. Yeah. That we deserve to ask of ourselves and each other, and we can do so in the cons, you know, in the, in a civil, respectful, responsible way. But we were not doing the work of kindness in humanity by merely glossing over what is hard and difficult, because life is complex, and people are complex.

Sucheta Kamath: Great. So let's talk about creativity then. So for starters, how do you define creativity or the sense of wonder? And is and and when it comes to Fred Rogers, his ability to invoke this sense of wonder, How and when did it show up in his work? And why did they put that as the center stage of his work?

Gregg Behr: I have a brief response to them. So I used all sorts of synonyms at the beginning of the production, the switch data, and it makes me think, I think of the word innovation when I think of creativity and curiosity, which are certainly close cousins, right. And we have some colleagues. In fact, we cite the work of Melissa Butler, who's this extraordinary kindergarten teacher, we cite her in the book, and she among others, refers to this sensibility that innovation is finding something new in something familiar. I love that. And I like that phrasing. When I think about creativity. Creativity is you know, it's going through that scenario planning it that adapt, adapt, adaptive thinking that we talked about. And it's finding something new in something familiar.

Sucheta Kamath: Great definition.

Ryan Rydzewski: We see a lot of that in the neighborhood. You know, when Fred, there's a whole week that we talked about in a book, Fred called the creativity week, it was Mr. Rogers talks about creativity. And he starts this five episode series about creativity with a spoon, just a regular spoon that you might find in your kitchen. Now, that might seem like an unusual choice. If this is going to be creativity, we, why don't we bring in something wild, something a little bit more fantastic, something a little bit more mysterious. But Rogers knew that we have to start with things that we know, we see this in all kinds of episodes, he, you know, whenever we go off and do a creative project, it starts with something that's familiar, it starts with a sandbox, it starts with water, it starts with a spoon. It starts with something that's within that something that's familiar to children and their environment. And from there, we can build from there, we can start making up stories, what are some things a spoon can be? Well, over the course of those five episodes, a spoon becomes an inspiration for an opera, a spoon becomes a musical instrument, a spoon becomes a tool for making mountains in the neighborhood of make believe, for Rogers knew that creativity really springs from a blend of blend of what's familiar. And so and I'm sorry, a blend of mystery with what's familiar, something new inside something that's familiar, as Gregg said, we see that in just about every episode of the neighborhood.

Gregg Behr: And this is the beauty of where Fred Rogers as the learning scientist, made that so seamless, right? Because we didn't recognize that in the work. It's not what we remember. And it's what great learning engineers do is they make that learning science so seamless. But the learning science now tells us today that people don't jump from idea a to idea z. They start with what comes next be right, they go to something familiar. And so whether Fred Rogers is using a spoon or a lampshade or something else that's familiar in kids lives, that's as true to chatter for a child as it is for an adult. As we think about what's possible, we sometimes get paralyzed. Yeah, when we jump to something that seems impossible, but when you start to see something new and something that's familiar to you, then you connect familiarity and mystery in brilliant ways.

Ryan Rydzewski: Yeah. And the other thing did was really he helped show children that their creative passions, their creative ideas, their creative questions, he showed kids that creativity has value. And he had all sorts of ways and sometimes it was just the way he modeled behavior. You know, there's a quote in the book, it's from like a television critic at the time, who said, you know, when Fred sits down and he's cutting out construction paper, or he's painting a picture, he acts as if he'd be doing that anyway, even if you weren't on television, and he shows children there, what he's doing brings him joy. And then he brings in all these creative guest stars, sometimes their creative professionals, it's Yo-Yo Ma. It's Wynton Marsalis, it's Julia Child, but more often, it's everyday people in the neighborhood. every adult in the neighborhood has some sort of creative passion that he or she does not feel pressured to give up. So Officer Clemens, you know, the neighborhood police officer was also the neighborhood opposite here. Handyman Negri was the neighborhood guitarist, Aubrey cleans everything who ran the cleaning business was the neighborhood cheerleading squad leader. Everybody had a creative passion. Everybody indulged it. And in doing so I think Rogers was able to show children that their creativity has value not only for them, but creativity makes life better for their neighbors too.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, and what I noticed in in his work, is it the beginning always would be to show children one's own interest. So children would never think a spoon can be interesting, right? So you kind of say a spoon you I know you've been using it, but I'm going to study like his purple violet, you know, like the the little part with purple violets, right? And then second is before because, to me, innovation is towards the end, it leads to innovation. But the seeds of that is to first observe, which requires you to pause and not do other things. So if you think spoon is predictable, there's no reason to do anything new with the spoon, right? So I love the way he would help children actually walk on that bridge. And, and so I want to ask you a question about his capacity and ability, which he modeled all the time is this ability to observe. So I was In the research, you know, like the Fred's first job was, as a producer of Gabby Hayes children's show where this cowboy would talk to the children, even though it was kind of weird as and directly, though, by looking into the camera, so he had. So Fred became very curious about this method and asked Gabby Hayes, what do you what? Like how do you find comfort in this? This is very awkward way. And Gabby has says, Remember Fred, one Buckaroo. There's one Buckaroo behind this, people have a camera that you're looking at. And that really set the stage of this directly talking, which is now we will call it for breaking the fourth dimension, I guess. Right? So what do you think about this one strategy that he used? And how can we adapt that to when we are interacting with children that direct gaze and seeing people with that are paying attention to them? By directly looking at the camera? Do you think that played an important role in this process?

Gregg Behr: Oh, absolutely did. And the mere fact that he called the experience a television visit? Yes, it's the way you and I are looking at each other through a screen right now. He did think about one little Buckaroo on the other side of that, and, and famously called it a holy space between me and that viewer. And, you know, it's interesting, Ryan and I have had the privilege of talking to modern multimedia, folks, people who are creating video games for kids, or people who are developing other types of multimedia technologies to engage in this experience. And that's essentially what Fred did, right? He took the newfangled technology of his day television and said, How do I make it constructive and good. And it's a it's a real sincere challenge to not only to that teacher, or, or whomever is in that direct physical presence, to be present to the learner. But for those who are creating products and devices and software, how do we take that same sensibility, and think about it in the same way so that we are supporting you, and your passions and your interest and helping you bump up against the things that you need to bump up against?

Ryan Rydzewski: Yeah, and that sort of eye gaze that you mentioned, it just reminded me of what Gregg said earlier, you know, if the point of the show was telling children, I noticed you, it's hard to do better than to look directly at a person and speak directly to that person. You know, recently, my fourth grade, neice watch the program for the first time. My wife's family didn't grow up watching Mr. Rogers. This was all due to her when we started reading the book. But now, you know, we have some little kids on that side of the family. And they're watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. And she was watching her first episode and not five minutes, and she turned to her mom said, Mom, how does he know how to talk to me? And she was thrilled, she was thrilled that this person on the other side of the screen was looking right, yeah, was looking right at her and talking to her. And Rogers did that in other ways, too. He always had the eye gaze. But whenever a new person would appear on the set, say, Mr. McFeely, the speedy delivery man, he would always introduce that person to he would say, this is my television neighbor, meeting the viewer. At every point, the viewer was included, I think we write in the book, the viewer was treated as a collaborator, kids were always being noticed kids were always being brought into the experience of the neighborhood and told that they matter.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, interestingly, I heard john Rogers tell a story that once they were coming out of New York hotel, and a kid ran into Mr. Rogers, and his first question was, how did you get out? Get out. And so she said, he sat on that, like, you know, got to his eye level started explaining, you know, about the TV show, and she said, after he finished, everybody will think he got it. And then the kid ends by saying, how are you going to get back in? That theater that spaces you share with people can give a great sense of satisfaction and closeness? So the next question is to cater,

Gregg Behr: Can I just I have to interrupt you, because in relaying that story, there's another really critical part. It's not just Fred Rogers noticing that moment and talking directly to that child on that street. But you said getting down at his level, right? I mean, that's also the physical presence and how we physically present ourselves to others is so critically important. 

Ryan Rydzewski: And Fred always did that. There. Yeah, there's a there's a quick anecdote in the book of you know, he's rushing through an airport with with Bill Eisler, who is a close colleague of ours who really helped us get this book off the ground. He worked closely with Fred for years, and no matter of the situation. So Fred always got down like Greg said, on on one knee, he always got down at children's eye level. And in the book, we talked with Bill Eisler, who was Fred's close colleague. For years, traveled all over the country with Fred and no matter the situation, even if they were late for a flight, Fred would get down, get on eye level with a child. And I heard somebody recently say, you know, imagine looking up at everyone all the time, imagine just the physical act of having to crane your head and look up at all the people around you. After a while, that's got to get really tiring. So there's also again, that sort of that sense of physical comfort that Fred conveyed by meeting children literally where they are.

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, and you say this funny story that was another belies love story that he says they had hired this crew for the Fred Rogers production. And they were navigating, you know, New York traffic or whatever. And on the foot. They were trying to get to the shoot and a homeless man hollered at Mr. Rogers and stopped him and like, everybody should ignore the homeless man, Fred Rogers said, No, no, no, no, he has spoken to him. So he takes that $5 bill gives it to the homeless man, and then gets on his knees and sits and starts talking to the homeless man. And then that went on for 20 minutes. And he realized I was like sweating, because he's like, we have all these people we have paid, you know, but that was weird Rogers, very much recognizing the humanity in every opportunity get. And you know, that's another remarkable thing that comes through your book is, he was no, not two different people. He was one, like Joanne said, right? You see what you get, or you get what you see. And that's so hard to be that way. We are nice when we are required to then we are like, I'm taking a vacation from niceness.

Gregg Behr: Well, it's so hard to be. And as you just mentioned, Joanne as she wrote, in the foreword to our book, no one worked harder at being Fred Rogers than did Fred Rogers. It was a practice behavior. And he awoke in the morning thinking through what is my day going to be with Who am I going to interact? What is the presence that I want to have to these individuals? How do I want to go about my day, it was very again, it goes back to deliberate and intentional way of, of being in the world. And, and then you know, that he was one person and he wasn't one person on our television sets, and another one at the elevator or bakery, where fellow Pittsburghers ran into him, as Ryan was describing he, he was who we needed him to be. And I think that's partly to why in his death, and then thinking about his legacy, his legacy deserves so much attention, because at his core, he was a decent, good human being.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, and I missed him so much. Sounds very corny, but he's not no longer here. You know, the other thought came to my mind was this. You know, there was a story that I think was written in a tribute. Esquire magazine did a tribute on him, and it says, Mr. Rogers wanted to meet Coco, the gorilla, who had been taught the sign language. And nobody would be allowed in her, like, enclosed area, except Mr. Rogers was, you know, she let him in. But not only she recognized him, and she had seen him, she gave him a big hug. And then she proceeded to remove his shoes. Your imagine that moment, was so endearing. So I want to ask you about value of routines and rituals when we work with children, and how does that connect with invoking this sense of wandering them? While kind of, you know, they may not may sound too simplistic, but there's some profound like, setting the tone or or, you know, reducing the dial? Is that how you see it? 

Ryan Rydzewski: Sure. Yeah. I think the routines in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, which began and ended the same way for about almost 40 years. Were an expression of Rogers attempts to make sure children felt safe. You know, there's a there's a feeling of safety when you walk into a place that you recognize very well, whether it's whether it's your home, whether it's a library, versus walking into a place you've never been before, or standing in a crowd of people you don't know. Rogers knew that feeling that sense of safety was absolutely critical. It is absolutely critical to helping children and adults for that matter, learn. Anxiety has been shown and you probably some read some of this research to diminish our executive function to diminish our ability to learn Rogers knew that it's so important that the environment in which children are in feels safe. So whenever something moved, whenever something was at one part of the set to the other, Rogers always explained why it was going to move when I think it was in the early 1970s Mr. Rogers walls which are iconically blue. Early on, they were yellow. And Rogers painted them. We saw Rogers painting up. And there are actual several scenes of Rogers sitting there watching paint dry, because he knew children, again, they need routine. And they need time to process things. All of this comes from a place of wanting to make sure children felt safe.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, and it's funny because I think we don't do that to children. I remember talking to one of my clients, and the parents were changing schools, without informing the child. And the child, this just was revealed a week before the child was going to have completely new school. They were yanking the kid from public school to private school, but the kid was never on boarded, or discussed or invited. And this is a middle school kid. So you can I can imagine that trauma of like, Oh, what is happening to me? And why none of those. And so that goes back to talk about respect. So So let's talk about you know, you you've been very kind to us as readers that every chapter you ended with tools for invoking, or, you know, propelling curiosity. So can you walk us through? The, the most, the one that's most important to you, and the ones that you think, are really, we need to prioritize these important processes. What what are your recommendations for our listeners, in addition to reading the book of course.

Gregg Behr: So as you say, we conclude each chapter by just giving some very practical examples that you or I and Ryan might create, in our own homes, on the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our classrooms, libraries, wherever we might be in the presence of children and young people. And some of the ideas are curated from the some of the people we have the privilege to talk to. So one of those people was Hetta Sherapin. Hetta is a remarkable educator who began work on production with Mr. Rogers back in, in 1968, with that first episode, and she relayed the story of having gone into a teacher's classroom and seeing at the front of the classroom, a wicker basket that the teacher called an Ask It Basket. And the idea was that she had created an environment that kids asked questions. And she, when kids asked questions, which she invited, she acknowledged the questions, however crazy, she thought they might be, or, you know, however, onpoint, she thought they might be, she would take the time to notice them. She would write it down on a piece of paper, put it in the Ask It Basket, and and would announce that we'll find time later to answer these questions, and then would go back, respecting those questions and answer the questions and would do it collectively. To me, that's a simple tactic that, you know, I could do with my daughters in our kitchen in the evenings. I also think to have the personal things that we might draw upon from our own lives. And so I think of the early days of the pandemic, and and I'd shared with Ryan, and it ended up in the book that we, in the early days of the pandemic had gone out into the garage, I found my old skateboard. So thinking of passions and interest, I used to be a skateboarder as a young kid. And I pulled out my skateboard and I started skating down the street. And you could imagine how I was laughing and giggling as a nearly 50 year old man back on a skateboard I hadn't stepped on in 30 years, at least. And the thing about that is that the kids on the street started running behind me. And you can imagine how they're like cheering and they thought it was goofy. But you know, today, there are eight girls on our street who are skateboarders. Now, I'm smart enough to say I can't draw a line between A and B. But it's a pretty good line. Even if zigzagged because what they witnessed was an adult showing something that interests him, provoking curiosity and then just say, like, I wonder what that's like to get a skateboard and go down the street and finding that it was something that they enjoyed and enjoy doing together. Absolutely. So that's to have dozens of examples that we try and express in each at the end of each chapter in the theme of that chapter.

Sucheta Kamath: By the way, Ask It Basket is my favorite. By the way, it's a good it's such a good book. It's such a great and it's so replicable. Like it's so practical. Ryan, how about you? Any strategies that speak to you?

Ryan Rydzewski: I think my favorite one, and we quote actually, David Epstein, who wrote a great book called Range, which is about the importance of being a generalist in a specialized world. But what David talks about is the Saturday morning experiment, just an opportunity to try something new. You don't have to like it. You don't have to pursue it any further than that one day, but just an opportunity to try something different. And I love that advice, because I think it mirrors what Fred did in the neighborhood. So well. I'm You could take any one episode or any, you know, these five episode theme weeks that he did. And the sheer variety that Fred brought into the neighborhood is is astounding, you know, we would go to a garden, we would go to a factory, we would go to a restaurant, we would go to a library to Museum, sometimes all on the same day, because Fred knew that kids need to be exposed to what he called the smorgasbord of the world. Because it's through that exposure through these opportunities to try new things, that kids can start to discover their passions, kids can start to discover what they like, and eventually, hopefully, kids will start to find their purpose. And as the research shows, there's nothing more powerful when it comes to learning than a sense of purpose. But it has to be an authentic purpose. It has to be a purpose that is true to you something that you've chosen. And the only way to find it is to just try as much as you can until till it clicks.

Sucheta Kamath: Do you have any favorite episode yourselves? 

Ryan Rydzewski: I know what Gregg's gonna say. Go ahead, Gregg. 

Gregg Behr: You're thinking goldfish, aren't you? 

Ryan Rydzewski: I am. Yeah. 

Gregg Behr: So go ahead.

Ryan Rydzewski: So yeah, this is it's it's a, it's a weird one to be a favorite, because it's actually incredibly sad. But the episode death of a goldfish is your friends most direct way of talking to children about death. And so it's extremely moving. And it's extremely simple. You know, his goldfish dies, and there's no music, if I remember correctly, it's a very quiet episode, even by the neighborhood's already quiet standards. And he goes outside, and he buries it. And he talks about the fact that it's okay to be sad, it's okay to miss the friends or the pets that you love. It is a distillation, I think of everything he did, and all his other episodes that have that sense that, you know, what's mentionable becomes more manageable. And he's mentioning in that episode, The hardest thing that anybody has to deal with, which is grief. And in doing so he helps make it more manageable for kids. And I think for adults, too.

Gregg Behr: And for me, there is no one favorite episode. There's a theme that I appreciate. And that theme was the tours. You know, Fred would take us on factory tours to see how musical instruments were made. Or he might take us to a fire hall or a construction site. We all remember the visit to the crayon factory, yes. Yeah, right. So again, something familiar in a kid's life, right? Like, I have this right on I play with all the time, I drive down the street, and we see this construction site, like what's actually happening there. And I just love that he recognized that these are the types of things about which kids wonder, and then he took us there, and we could see how things were made and what people were doing and what was happening. And he took familiar things, and expanded our universe.

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, and my favorite, which again, I agree with you like, I don't know if I can pick one. But I love the curiosity series that he did the five episodes he did. But I also loved the the surgery, tonsillectomy right, was it not? Yeah, I just want to get the surgery. Right. But I thought that was quite Wow. Like we wouldn't. I mean, now, children are seeing everything but but the quietness, you know, and in which you seriously are consuming this information that is going to change the way you look at information and say, Okay, this also happens in life, you know, so, yeah, that's really great. So that brings me to this last question, which is, you know, it's a really contemplative, more contemplative than all the other questions, I guess, is, you know, I was moved by the the last prayer that he heard before his death was Psalm 129, which was also was read at his memorial service, but which says, and I hope I'm saying it correctly, but I will lift up mine, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. So his essence to children was look for the helpers, or and eventually be the helper. So can you talk a little bit about that? How does that fit in this equation of helping children become a well developed, well adjusted individuals? I start growing.

Gregg Behr: But it's interesting because you mentioned this, this phrase, look for the helpers which, you know, has become so used, and maybe you know, for good and sad reasons. Because as as communities as a nation, we face tragedies and there's been interest traction for us, in the depth of tragedy and despair, to look to the goodness around that's helping them to address that. Dana Winters, who is the executive director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent college, just east of Pittsburgh, reminds us that there's more to that phrase, and I will, I won't correctly quote it. But the point being that, after saying, Look to the helpers, Fred Rogers spoke to, to hope and, and the importance of hope in our lives, as a driver of possibility, and, and healing. And it's not just a matter of looking to the helpers, it's looking to our hope, and the hope that we find inside of ourselves, and the goodness that we want to create, which reminds me of the challenge that Fred Rogers issued at the millennium. And that is, perhaps the greatest opportunity each of us has, is to make goodness attractive.

Sucheta Kamath: Alright, so yeah, and thank you for mentioning about, you know, children needing helpers, and some more than the others. Can we quickly talk about you do cover childhood challenges, particularly childhood trauma. And I wonder if that was specifically put in there, considering all the new research we know as well as education, you know, people in education are also becoming aware of the need for addressing mental health. So what are your thoughts about even though, from the era of 50s, when Mr. Rogers began, we were barely talking about emotions, other than anger, I guess. So we have evolved as a society. But we are also now paying attention to children who may have experienced profound saddening or depressing or anxiety provoking circumstances.

Ryan Rydzewski: Yeah, I think the most interesting research around that to us was, there's all sorts of new research coming out about how loving close relationships can. It can't. It's not a panacea, but it can help kids be much more resilient than maybe we had previously thought before. So we talked in the book about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, there's this really exciting field of research into what scientists are calling counter ACEs, these things that counter those adverse childhood experiences. And you know, if you reduce these things to numbers, which a number of scientists caution against, but for the purposes of our conversations, if you have two adverse childhood experiences, it is possible to counteract those with to counter ACEs to positive experiences. And when we looked into the research as to you know, what constitutes a counter ACE, it's things that Fred was doing in the neighborhood, it is establishing routines, it is making sure kids feel safe. It is making sure children have positive experiences with adults, whether or not those adults are the children's parents, you know, a neighbor can be a counter ACE, a teacher can be a counter as a coach, so many of us have an opportunity to be that person for children, that Fred was for us.

Gregg Behr: Lovely, and that was the neighborhood. Yes, right. We speak often that it wasn't Mr. Rogers home. It wasn't Mr. Rogers classroom, it was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. And that presence of lots of caring adults, is a really critical counter, as you know.

Sucheta Kamath: I never thought about it until I came across your writing. I thought it was such a casual term neighborhood. But that was actually such a deliberate choice. Your writing never said a stage. It never said a room or classroom. And wow. So right off the bat, he's setting the stage for community, you're no, you're not an individual, you belong to something larger. So as we end and conclude this fantastic discussion, of course, as you can see, I can go on and on, but I'm being very mindful of your time. Tell us, your authors. So have you come across any reading yourself that has influenced you? And would you like to share a book or recommend a book to our audience? You want to start?

Gregg Behr: Well, I love this question. And I've seen Ryan walk out of local bookstores with dozens of books. I'm so curious what it is that he's gonna say. I, you know, reflecting on that reference that Fred Rogers made at the millennium to make goodness attractive. It makes me think of one of my favorite books that I read when I was a college student. It's written by Philip Halley, and the book is entitled Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. Oh, wow. And it's a book about Nazi occupied France and how a community made goodness happen in the most horrible of circumstances. And I'm not sure that it's a book in circulation, but it's a book that your listeners should find. Whether it's an a used bookstore or their library. It's entitled Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. It's a wonderful, it's a wonderful piece.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you. How about you, Ryan? 

Ryan Rydzewski: I want to read that. Thank you. 

Sucheta Kamath: I read a lot, but I haven't read that.

Ryan Rydzewski: So I am just about finished with a book by George Saunders, who's a favorite writer of mine. And his latest book is called The Swim in a Pond in the Rain, in which four Russians give a masterclass on writing, reading and life. And oh, wow, I was, you know, I was interested in this book, just being a writer. But the book is about so much more than these short stories by these four Russian authors. Really what the book does is take us through stories paid by page by page, in some cases, line by line. And think about notice what the brain is doing. As we read each passage. What is it that manipulates is an ugly word, but what is it that manipulates a reader to feel a certain way? Why do we read it all? Why do we care about these made up experiences of made up characters, and there's this lion in the early part of the book that I have not been able to get out of my head. And he's George Saunders is talking about the importance of storytelling, the importance of fiction, and he says, you know, stories, short stories are about resistance, they're about the most radical idea of all, that every human being is worthy of attention, and that the origins of every good and evil capability of the universe may be found by observing a single, even very humble person and the turnings of his or her mind. And I love that that idea of, of one everybody being worthy of attention. That's, I think, that echoes our book, and the idea that the turnings of his or her mind can explain just about everything that happens in the universe. I think there's, there's a deep truth to that. And so I've really been enjoying this book, and I think, you know, as a podcast about executive function, your your listeners might like it too.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you, both of you have really given a lot for me to think about and being so generous to our audience and sharing your wisdom. I really appreciate it. So listeners, if you love what you hear here, please share, write us a review and talk to us email us. My I'm easily accessible. So my email is Sucheta@exqinfiniteknowhow.com and thank you, Gregg. Thank you, Ryan, for being here with us. And until next time. Please be bold, be curious. And remember to have fun. 

Ryan Rydzewski: Thank you so much.