Thursday, September 3, 2009

Requiescat in Pace, Reading Rainbow

Reading Rainbow
, a 26-year stalwart on PBS, came to an end last week. NPR ran a fitting obituary citing the cause of Reading Rainbow's demise:

"The series resonates with so many people," says John Grant, who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow's home station...

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.
The Department of Education wants children's television to focus on a noble and worthy purpose--how to read. Yet there are numerous children's shows on television that already do this--Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Wordworld, etc.

Reading Rainbow focused on fostering a love of reading--why kids should read. It had found its niche purpose. This was evident from the show's fanciful title sequence and imaginative opening song. (See video above.)
Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high,
Take a look, it's in a book — Reading Rainbow ...

Try getting that song out of your head. Three of Loome's staff members were born the same year Reading Rainbow debuted on the air. We grew up with the adventures of host LeVar Burton and book reviews given by bibliophilic children.

We must trust the love of reading will come just as naturally without LeVar Burton to guide the way, but it's a shame to say farewell to a show that fostered that nascent love in children. As Scout Finch, the heroine of To Kill a Mockingbird said, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read."


  1. I like the distinction you make between the "why" and the "how" of reading. You're right, both are very important, perhaps equally so.

    Do you think the show's theme song accurately conveys what reading can do for us? Sure, we can for a time become an astronaut or a ship captain, but does what we read have effect in real life? Perhaps it is in my cynicism as a post-undergraduate student that I look back on Reading Rainbow. We are taught that reading is so fun when we are little, and then the great past time is thithered away by adulthood, with pressures that we have better things to do with our time.

    So I wonder, does reading have any practical use for us?

  2. You make some good points. I think the opening theme song makes the point that reading lends itself to imgaination. It sparks creativity in the mind of children and adults. Instead of the sensory overload of TV and radio, books leave your mind free to imagine.

    With regard to the pressures of having more important tasks at hand, I think a book can slow us down, relax the mind and bring a little peace.

  3. Cat,

    I have a somewhat different take on teaching childrent to read. I think the role of parents is crucial. My wife and I raised three avid readers. We read to them from a very early age, strictly limited TV, and surrounded them with books approprate to their age. I think the two crucial variables were reading to them and limiting TV. (I'm not familiar with Reading Rainbow but I doubt my kids would have been watching it...they probably would have been reading.)

    Also, I think learning to read is kind of like learning to ride a bike. You need someone to support your for awhile and then you are suddenly on your own. The more you ride/read, the faster and further you go...with s bike or with books...


  4. Buzz,

    I agree the parents, as first educators, are primarily responsible for encouraging a love of reading. I'm glad your children would have been prone to turn off the TV and open a book. I think this was Reading Rainbow's ultimate goal (aside from making a profit).

    It reminds me of another PBS stalwart--Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers once said, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

  5. WTF!!!!! say it aint soooo, cabrones, nooooo