The senator from Massachusetts may be the top news story, but another sad passing has my attention. The last episode of Reading Rainbow airs today.
My kids moved out of its target audience years ago, but I was still depressed to learn that LeVar Burton would no longer lead children on adventures. No more children reviewing books. No more junior book club.
As reported on NPR this morning, the demise has been expected for several years:
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.
John Grant (who is in charge of content at WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow's home station) 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.
My daughter discovered this show shortly before her 4th birthday. Field trips and other diversions explored the themes suggested by the book of the episode. Nothing was off-limits; shows explored slavery and parents in prison, as well as animals and farms. Episodes often sent Jen and I traipsing to the library or Barnes & Noble, looking for a book we saw on the show or one with a similar theme.
No, this show was not about how to read; it was about the joy of reading, of losing yourself in another world. As John Grant noted in the NPR interview:
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.
For many children educational television may support those first building blocks of reading- the alphabet and phonics on Sesame Street come to mind. Very few children’s shows encourage reading the way Rainbow did. Even though I had not turned it on in years, I am sad to know it will not be there for my grandchildren (not that I feel old enough to be a grandmother, even though it is biologically feasible at this time).
Guess I will just buy them books.
Rainbow courtesy of PhotoXpress.