Long before Junlei Li became a Senior Lecturer at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, he was a child growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China. After his parents were exiled, he came to America for college and became fascinated with the quiet calm of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Compelled as he was to learn how to communicate effectively with children, to teach deeply, Li went deep on Rogers and wound up employed by his family foundation outside Pittsburgh, given total access to the man’s archives and a view of Latrobe, where Rogers grew up, from the top of a hill.
Li would go on to develop the “Simple Interactions” approach, which is designed to help adults understand how to interface empathetically with children. In essence, he would codify a lot of the tactics that Rogers used to such profound effect.
Like Rogers, Li speaks slowly. He’s thoughtful and kind. Also like Fred Rogers, he’s driven by conviction and by a commitment to making the world better for children. But he’s not a fan or an intellectual cosplayer. He’s a scholar — one of the few who have given Fred Rogers his due as a philosopher and a big thinker in the realm of childhood development. Because Li knows so much about Rogers, he doesn’t think of the man as a TV host. He thinks of him as a game-changer.