Children are often pushed to achieve adult definitions of success at the expense of their ambling curiosity, longtime television personality Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan believes.
Since the April death of 7-year-old amateur pilot Jessica Dubroff jolted the country into worried discussion about over-achieving youths, many voices have weighed in on how much is too much to expect from children.Long before the tragedy, however, Keeshan began working on a book, titled "Hurry, Murray, Hurry," that addresses the subject. It will be published this fall (by Fairview Press), he said in an interview from his home in Vermont.
The book is a fable "about two kids who just like to take it easy and smell the flowers," Keeshan said. "They work hard and they do well in school, but they're not in any hurry to get to the next grade level. (They) just like to look around and enjoy life."
Keeshan says he has "watched kids being pushed by parents," and advocates putting less pressure on youngsters. As the character in his upcoming book imparts by example, Keeshan says children should relax and be encouraged to explore.
As Captain Kangaroo, Keeshan hosted the nation's longest-running network children's program. It began its 30-year run on CBS in 1955, and survived for a short time afterward on public television. Keeshan is also co-founder of Corporate Child Care Inc., (now Corporate Family Solutions), which operates worksite childcare centers.
Keeshan, 68, also is promoting the June opening of Boggy Creek Gang Camp, a recreational facility for chronically ill children in Orlando, Fla. The camp, free for the children and their families, will be underwritten by pharmaceutical manufacturer Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc.
Keeshan writes advice columns on parenting for the company's newsletter.
And he's not afraid to offer the nation's parents some constructive criticism. He isn't alarmed that television has grown to such cultural predominance, but, he added, "What I am surprised about is that parents have not been more intelligent."
Moves to label or block "adult" programs are good ideas, and "there are some situations where (they) will be very useful," he said. "'But there's a thing called parent-child relationships" which should steer children away from bad influences. A parent's common sense should already be working for children as "a V-chip for their head," Keeshan says.
Keeshan doesn't pine to go before the cameras again with Bunny Rabbit or Mr. Greenjeans. There's no trace of envy aimed at his friend, Fred Rogers - Mister Rogers - who still zips his sweater, switches his shoes and feeds the fish for another generation of American children.
But in feeling his time before the camera has passed, Keeshan also acknowledges the passing of an innocent era in television. With some worthy exceptions, television has become a harsher playground - enough that Captain Kangaroo wouldn't likely be conceived or produced now, he says.
"The captain wouldn't have an Uzi in (his) hand and shooting up the streets," he says. "Is that a reflection on my program or a reflection on society?"