Alexandra C. Klaren honored with top paper award at 2017 NCA

“Becoming Dialogic: An Inquiry into the Communication Ethics Origins of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” has been honored as a Top Paper in the Communication Ethics Division of NCA’s 2017 Annual Convention. 

Who was Fred Rogers before he became "Mister Rogers?" Why do everyday Americans, when recollecting him and his television program, swell with affective expression similar to a kind that emerges when calling to mind a dear, close friend? In this paper, I examine and analyze Fred Rogers' visionary articulations on television, children, and his own foundational experiences in order to provide answers to these questions from a perspective of origins. I identify two critical pathways of experience and meaning-making in the early epochs of Rogers' life that dialogically converged to form the unique and penetrating foundational conversational communication ethos he employs with exceptional success on his televisual creation, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

In the first section, "Dialogical Beginnings: Divinity School and the Arsenal Family Center," I examine interviews in which Rogers and others discuss his work as a student of University of Pittsburgh Psychology Professor Margaret McFarland, co founder of the Arsenal Family Center, a cutting-edge child development research center. I analyze the ways that Arsenal's methods of close observation (of children) and dialogical engagement (with children) produced knowledge about communicating with the young that Rogers later reenacted ritually on MRN. In the second section, "The Wounded Healer and the Mutuality of Holy Ground," I show how Rogers' early theological experiences of his own dyadic relationship of care and concern with the Christian God dovetail with his later dialogical experiences at the Arsenal and combine to formulate the undergirding ethos and relational communication practices of MRN characterized by acceptance, inclusion, affirmation, compassion, and mutuality.

My analysis explains the uniqueness of MRN not as a child's entertainment program for passing the time but as a healing, dialogical visit with a caring adult who encourages the child to think about the world and reflect on her role in it. I show how the program fulfilled a need for deep encounters in an 'I-Thou' Buberian dynamic rather than serving, as other programming for children did, as a distraction from the world and self.