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Reading Rainbow is…GONE?!

August 28, 2009

“So, did you hear about Reading Rainbow on NPR this morning?”

Tim didn’t have to say much more for me to realize that one of the most beloved programs from my childhood had been cancelled.

The program that began with a most catchy and whimsical theme song.  (Iiiiiiiii can go anywhere…!)

The program hosted by Levar Burton, who inspired a love reading in an entire generation of children (and astounded many an 80s and 90s adolescent who proclaimed, “Oh my god, the guy from Reading Rainbow is on Star Trek!”).

The program that featured little kids all across the country introducing their favorite book to Reading Rainbow viewers.  (I so wanted to be one of those kids!)

The program that has been on the air for 26 years and has earned more than two-dozen Emmy’s.

(The program that could kick Dora’s ass in a heartbeat.)

The program that I am very, very sad to see go.

My sadness has less to do with the fact of the show’s cancellation (there are 26 years worth of episodes for future generations to watch, after all) and more to do with the reasons that were given for the cancellation. 

In an interview with John Grant, the director of content for shows at Reading Rainbow’s home station in Buffalo, NPR’s Morning Edition reported that:

The show’s run is ending, Grant explains, 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.

Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that’s not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

 “Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read,” Grant says. “You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”

I am not necessarily opposed to those who support creating shows that teach kids how to read.  In fact, I find many of these shows (Super Why! comes to mind) to be quite fun and enjoyable children’s television programs.

But the decision to support these shows at the expense of Reading Rainbow seems emblematic of the way that our society (de)values education at the moment. 

The way in which it prizes learning for its utility and not necessarily for its ability to inspire creativity or ingenuity.  The way in which it forces teachers to “teach to tests” and to view education as a mere transmittal of information and not as a complex intellectual, emotional, and imaginative developmental process.

The way in which it views reading as an act of mastering phonics and spelling and not as an activity–a love, a passion, a pasttime–that can take anyone anywhere.

And I so wish that Reading Rainbow didn’t have to be a victim of these values.

In closing, if you were (or even are) a Reading Rainbow lover, you may be  humming the show’s theme song to yourself at this very moment.  The song that told us that we could be anything if we only took a look inside a book.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elsha permalink
    August 30, 2009 2:50 am

    I was just thinking to myself yesterday, if Reading Rainbow was still on the air or not. I sort of thought it had already been cancelled, given the major shift away from books our society seems mired in. But it is good to know it held out as long as it did.

    I loved that show. It will be missed.

  2. renbeth permalink
    August 30, 2009 11:57 am

    I didn’t even really watch Reading Rainbow and this makes me sad. Mostly because of what you say about the changes in educational philosophy in our country right now . . . I worry a lot about what Isaac will actually get taught in school.

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