Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Sad Goodbye to Reading Rainbow

"Butterfly in the sky. I can go twice as high! Take a look. It's in a book. A Reading Rainbow. I can go anywhere.... I can do anything...."

Yesterday on NPR I heard a story that saddened me. It turns out that the much beloved show--Reading Rainbow--is leaving the airways forever. Apparently, no one will put up the money (a few hundred thousand dollars) to renew the show's broadcast rights.

Reading Rainbow has run for 26 years, all of them hosted by Levar Burton. I imagine most of you are familiar with the overall format of the show. Burton introduced a children's book, followed by an in-depth adventure about the theme of the book (Reading Rainbow never shied away from difficult topics, such as homelessness and slavery). The show concluded with real kids introducing their favorite books. This last section was always fun to watch, as the kids' enthusiasm for reading and for books was contagious.

What the NPR broadcast went on to say was that beyond the financial difficulties the show faced, there was an overall shift in the philosophy of educational programming during the Bush administration. The Department of Education wanted to focus more on the basic tools of reading (ie. phonics and spelling). Apparently, the people in charge at PBS agreed and chose to place their focus here.

No one is arguing that giving kids the basic tools in learning to read isn't important. But it should be a two-pronged approach. While Reading Rainbow may not have taught kids HOW to read, the show did in fact, teach kids WHY we should read. By introducing great children's literature, kids are motivated to learn to read. This is not always easy to do in this fast-paced technology-based society we live in. For the last 26 years, Reading Rainbow brought the magic of books to scores of children. It will be very missed.

Click here to hear the entire NPR story.

There is a petition being circulated around to save Reading Rainbow. Here's a link. Send it to anyone you know who is interested in children's books and high quality children's programming. Perhaps we can bring it back!

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