Mister Rogers visits Koko's Neighborhood
On Tuesday, July 28, 1998, more than 300 Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) across the nation aired a very special episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that featured Koko, the sign-language using gorilla.
Mister Rogers' visit with Koko at her home at The Gorilla Foundation helped launch a week of programming entitled "You and I Together" which addressed the confusion and even fear young children often experience when confronted with new situations or people who are different from themselves. The week long theme of "inclusion" featured Koko and helpful talks about feeling included, no matter what a child can or cannot do.
When Mister Rogers, the beloved and trusted visitor to three generations of children and parents and respected early childhood educator, offered his famous invitation, "Won't you be my neighbor?" to Koko, who for 26 years has intrigued and inspired us with her gentle nature and use of American Sign Language, she replied, "Love you, visitor, Koko love!"
Mister Rogers said, "Once you get to know people (or our close primate relatives, gorillas), you find that there is much more to them than what you see when you look at their 'outsides.' It's the heart and not just the eyes that discover what's real about us."
Dispelling the age-old myth of gorillas as frightening monsters and providing insight into the true hearts and minds of gorillas has been at the core of Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson's interspecies communication and behavior observation study of three western lowland gorillas at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California.
Dr. Patterson said, "Koko's affinity for Mister Rogers was immediately apparent. His soothing and quiet manner soon had Koko so relaxed that she had her arm around him and was intent on removing his sweater and shoes."
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