Dana Rudolph

Goodbye, Reading Rainbow

Filed By Dana Rudolph | August 28, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: levar burton, pbs, pbs kids, Reading Rainbow

Somereadingrainbow.jpg sad news this morning from NPR: Reading Rainbow, the 26-year veteran of children's television programming, airs its final episode today. The show has won more than two-dozen Emmys, and is the third longest-running children's show in PBS history, after Sesame Street and Mister Rogers.

The show is ending because no one will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show's broadcast rights, says NPR. They also report the opinion of John Grant, head 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.

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."

Yes, the basic tools are important, but they have to follow the love. (I'll spare you my usual rant about the many failings of No Child Left Behind--but see the addendum below.)

While no television show can replace a parent or other loved one sitting down in person to read a book with a child, shows like Reading Rainbow are an often useful complement, and a darn sight better than most of what passes for children's television these days.

There have also been several studies showing that in our society, reading is apparently seen as much more of a "female" activity. It is useful, therefore, for boys to have role models of men who read. Reading Rainbow's host, LeVar Burton, was a great example of that. And no, this has nothing to do with whether a boy has a father. One can still have a dad who doesn't read, or be the son of lesbian moms with an involved uncle who does. The more models the better, though, I say, and Burton's presence will be missed.

The only good news is that new generations of children will at least be able to enjoy the 26 years of Reading Rainbow on DVD for years to come.

(Addendum: The New York Times today published an op-ed by Tom Loveless, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the task force on K-12 education at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Loveless questions a study that concluded No Child Left Behind is helping higher-achieving children learn more. He says it's not—and to the extent that I can tell without plowing through the data myself, he's right. Thanks to Kim for the tip.)

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Oh no! And sesame street changed recently - they give like 20 minutes to elmo. He's all good-feely, not at all obsessive-compulsive and selfish and neurotic like the old characters. do they even show burt and ernie living together anymore?

Seriously, it's all too sanitary. I watched that between the lions for a while... sigh.

Oh, actually the Elmo change happened a while back. I was among the first generation of kids to grow up with Sesame Street, though, and I admit to a nostalgia for the older shows. Elmo has nothing on Kermit, though my son did like the former before he outgrew him.

I do like Between the Lions--pedagogically, it's great. They've also had lesbian moms Melissa Etheridge and Cat Cora do guest spots (without noting their orientation).

One more thing, I loved levar burton. Especially since I was just getting into star trek at the time, it was like, geordie laforge isn't really blind!

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | August 28, 2009 5:43 PM

Is there going to be anything to replace it?

As far as I am concerned, we can't spend too much to teach kids how and why to read.

I do not know of ONE educator who doesn't taste bile seeping up his or her throat at the mere mention of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. And these are highly experienced educators and trained specialists at the top of their profession.

Not to get all sentimental, but as a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, many of those childre's shows like Romper Room, Mister Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, etc., presented me with an adult who seemd to CARE. Sure, these adults were somewhat "imaginary" (at least to adults, not to a child), it was PROFOUND for me to FEEL CONNECTED to someone, anyone, somewhere, even if it was for 30-60 minutes a day.

Another good program goes down. My kids loved that show.

I wish someone could produce another show similar to Mr. Rogers, who practiced what best stimulates preschool critical thinking. You ever notice that he never introduced one number or letter into his show? It was all about higher brain functions instead of rote: How are things made? How do they work? And, always, relationships and self-concept: We like you exactly the way you are.

No kidding, Betty! Mr. Rogers knew exactly what this age group needs most:

* A gentle, unhurried, warm, comforting voice

* Routine, esp. at beginnings and endings for
security and familiarity

* Slow - "real time" pace. (The fast-editing of most "children's programs" is detrimental to a child's brain development. Brain specialist Jane Healy has some great books on the subject, including ENDANGERED MINDS)

* Music. Good music. Acoustic sounds. Spontaneous singing to accompany an activity, as any decent early-childhood teacher does automatically.

Yeah, I'm biased as someone in this field, but MY GOD, Art/Music is dying in schools, young children are having more and more developmental issues. With limited space to move, children are literally learning less. In our preschool the director noticed that more and more children have trouble grasping (pulling all fingertips together), but their thumbs were good at the "gameboy" type motion.

And without decent early-childhood music & movement experiences, I've seen children from age 8-13 have trouble walking and clapping to their own steady beat, or other "basic" rhythmic skills that were a given for most students 20 years ago. The inner ear, movement, balance, are all related.