In this season of graduations and reunions, I find myself musing over what kismet brings any of us to a specific campus and class. Such a fateful, shared experience!. To be sure, some of us shared a college class. Before that, fewer of us attended the same secondary and/or elementary schools. But before even that, the greatest number of us went separately (but together) to Ding Dong School.
Broadcast out of Chicago, the popular children’s show aired in 35 U.S.metropolitan markets. In many ways we, its viewers, were participants in the first children’s remote learning experiment.
Students of “Miss Frances” will never forget her. Every day it was the same routine: settle in before the TV and listen for the show’s signature opening: the ding-dong of a school bell. Yup, Miss Frances was the bomb. If you watch clips of her show now (available on YouTube), you will see the unmistakeable imprint of Ding Dong School on PBS’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood twenty years later.
For one-half hour each day, our mothers and caregivers enjoyed a welcome respite—to have a quiet moment, finish housework, solve quadratic equations — who knows? I was perfectly happy to be at home. My siblings were in elementary school. Thanks to Miss Frances, it never occurred to me I wasn’t in school too.
Perhaps you were like me. My attendance at Ding Dong School was exemplary. Nothing could keep me from “class” save a firm order to return my cold and myself to bed.
One day my brothers brought home their report cards. What were report cards? Indignant at the attention they were getting, I demanded to know: Where was my report card from Ding Dong School? Our mother pondered the question. She concluded I had a point.
The next day, as the show was ending, the telephone rang. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had arranged for a neighbor to ring us at that very moment. Suddenly I heard Mom speaking, unusually loudly, in the hall. Something clearly was up. I eavesdropped from my perch nearby.
“Hello, Miss Frances! “ she shouted. “Are you calling about Susie? Susie is doing well at Ding Dong School? How wonderful! Thank you for calling!” That did the trick. A preschooler’s heart took wing.
Frances Rappaport Horwich, Ed.D., was a pioneering, highly credentialed educator. She refused to agree to the network’s demand that she extend her hit show to one hour. She believed this would be “too much” for children. Dr. Horwich also abhorred the violence of the new TV westerns. Perhaps ironically, but surely presciently,she felt that children watched too much television. Following a lifetime dedicated to early childhood development and education, Frances Horwich died, age 94, in 2001.
Does any of this ring a bell? (Sorry!) Looking back, is it possible that Ding Dong School seeded in us a love of learning? Did Frances Horwich start us on our path? This may be a stretch—or maybe not. In either case, fellow Ding Dong School alumni, let us take a moment to remember, and salute, the extraordinary contributions of our dear Miss Frances.
Long before Mr. Rogers, there was Ding Dong School.
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.