Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The end of an era

I am so sad to learn that, after a 26-year run, PBS's wonderful show Reading Rainbow is going off the air. The decision was made simply because of funding issues. According to NPR's recent story, the show is ending "because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show's broadcast rights."

Also influencing the decision is the fact that there has been a shift in the philosophy behind educational programming in the United States. Again, from the NPR story: "The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration...which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it stars Levar Burton (also known as Geordi on Star Trek: The Next Generation) and involved actual picture books that inspired all kinds of entertaining adventures, and also included book reviews by children. As the show debuted when I was in college, I never had the pleasure of watching it as one of the members of the target audience - but I have watched it with my own girls for years, and it is an excellent program that is sure to get children fired up about reading. In my job as a children's librarian, children have often asked me to find them books they heard about on the show, and were always very enthusiastic to get them in their hot little hands.

It is true that phonics and spelling are incredibly important, as are shows that introduce these concepts to children - particularly those children whose parents are unable to do so themselves, or are unaware of the importance of doing so. But what a shame that a show like Reading Rainbow should fall by the wayside because of an emphasis on the nuts and bolts of literacy. Reading Rainbow not only shows children the magic of books as a vehicle for the imagination (as the show's theme song says, "I can go anywhere! Friends to know and ways to grow - Reading Rainbow. I can be anything!"), but it shows preliterate children the goal that they are working toward, the whole exciting and alluring reason why they want to learn to read in the first place.

There is a wonderful book by Stephen Krashen called The Power of Reading, which I highly recommend to parents, educators, and librarians. The research on reading and literacy discussed in that book is fascinating. One of the things it boils down to is that if you give books to children that they want to read and time to read those books, their reading scores will go up. It's as simple as that. Reading Rainbow is important because it make kids want to read, and it showcases a wide variety of books that young readers are sure to find appealing. Nuts and bolts are important, but so are flights of imagination.


  1. Aw, this really is sad. I used to watch this in the second grade during school. :(


  2. I didn't even know this show was still on! And I am still so very sad to hear that it will no longer be made. Aww. I LOVED Reading Rainbow.

    Butterfly in the sky
    I can go twice as high
    Take a look
    it's in a book!
    Reading Rainbow!!

  3. They took 1 of the only remaining truly educational shows out there an canceled it. That's just so gross! I used to watch this show and I always loved it - it always made the books seem more alive - making me want to read even more. This is sad.

  4. I was so sad to hear about this Darla :( I DID grow up with Reading was a true treasure. So many kids are going to miss out on this treasure of a show...

  5. I used to sit and watch this with my children when they were young. Very sad that it is going off the air. I loved it and so did they.

  6. I could not agree more. As a literature professor, I find myself more and more trying to inspire students to read for pleasure, for the adventure, for the story, and not for the motifs, symbolism, and vocabulary. Not that those things aren't important, but the necessity of studying the "literary terminology" is to understand how they work together to create meaning. They are not ends in themselves. It is unfortunate when students get nothing more out of Hamlet than the fact that Fortinbras is a foil.

  7. Shooting Stars - It must be sad for you, such a long-time fan!

    Cat - I've had the song going through my head ever since I wrote this! I'll miss it.

    Margo - it is a shame, isn't it?!

    Chris - it was a treasure. I'm glad you had the chance to grow up with it! I would have loved it as a kid, and my kids certainly have.

    Booklogged - I'll miss it, too!

    Trisha - I completely agree with you (and I wish I'd had more lit professors with your philosophy!). Giving kids the tools and desire to read for pleasure is one of the most important things teachers can do.

  8. I couldn't agree more with your statement about the importance of literature. My own years as a teacher allowed me the thrill of helping kids learn to love reading and writing, but also unfortunately showed me the demise of that love once politicians wanted the emphasis on quantification.

  9. This is depressing! I cannot imagine a world without Reading Rainbow.

  10. Book Chook - It is frustrating, isn't it? Quantifying things has a place in trying to judge how effectively the information is presented - but there's so, so much more to learning than that! As a parent, my hope for my own children's education is that they learn how to learn, and that they enjoy learning. What can stop them then? It's really in the hands of the teachers, despite what the government inflicts on them. I'm hoping they can withstand it, but it is worrisome.

  11. though i haven't watched the show in well over 20 years, i do remember enjoying it as a little girl. and i remember looking for books recommended on the show, as well.

    agreed, pulleys and levers of reading are important, but if you don't show the fun of putting them all together, then it's kind of halfway pointless. maybe that's why i have math avoidance issues: i was taught to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but never shown how it could be personally fulfilling in my real life. i only briefly like math in high school geometry, when math was tactile and wordy.

  12. Molly - I felt the same way about geometry - at last, there was something I could actually apply what I was learning to, something physical that made sense. Interesting!


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