Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
On August 28, Reading Rainbow—the third-longest running program in PBS history, after Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood—flew its last butterfly into the sky. After 26 years, the series was cancelled because neither PBS nor the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was willing to put up the money necessary to renew the program’s broadcast rights. Apparently, the philosophy about educational television has changed. Phonics and fundamentals, that’s what today’s reading-related programming is made of.
I am bereft—although the truth is, I was never much of a fan of the show as a kid. I remember watching it and thinking, “Why should I watch this show when I could just read the book myself?” (But I did love the theme song.) What really gets me here is what Reading Rainbow’s cancellation represents. In concentrating our educational resources on teaching children how to read, are we raising a generation of children who will never learn why to read?
Reading Rainbow was always the kind of show that attempted to teach children the love of books. And the Harry Potter-type phenomena aside, the love of books is in a precarious position right now. Oh, sure, even in a technologically driven society such as ours, we’re surrounded by things to read: e-mail, online news articles, blogs, etc. But reading someone’s latest posting on Facebook and sitting down and reading a book are two entirely different creatures. Reading a book requires time and commitment—and with so many flashier recreational activities competing for kids’ attention, how can we expect them to intuitively turn to such a cumbersome, outdated medium?
For me, books have always provided an escape, an outlet from the world around me. When things in my real life aren’t going very well, books have always enabled me to get away from everything, to imagine myself as something and someone different than what I really am. Yes, movies and television are also a form of escape, but neither of them allows you to immerse yourself in another world the way books do. As a television or movie viewer, you are a passive observer of the action. However, when you read a book, you are required to imagine the characters and the settings and the situations. Reading a book forces your brain to work in a way that it wouldn’t have to if you were just watching the same story in the movie theater or on the television.
And that’s what Reading Rainbow was all about: encouraging children to stretch the limits of their own imaginations. And while a television program telling children to read may seem counterintuitive, if it gets the message across, who cares? And obviously, since Reading Rainbow had been on the air since June of 1983—before I was born, if we’re being completely honest here—it must have been doing something right. Two generations of children grew up being told they could do anything and go anywhere through the pages of a book. That’s what I believed, and that’s what I still believe, to this day.
I guess it’s not the demise of Reading Rainbow itself that bothers me so much as the message it sends. If educators’ sole focus is on the mechanics of reading, how will today’s children learn to love it? If the message they’re getting is that reading is merely another boring educational chore rather than a fulfilling journey in and of itself, why would they look at it any differently than spelling lists and multiplication tables?
I can only hope that teachers and parents see this deficiency and try to compensate—and actually, teachers and parents should be the first line of defense against reading apathy, anyway. And no, not every kid will be a great reader—but then again, not every kid ever was. But I think that every kid at least deserves the opportunity to know what he or she is missing out on before making that decision.
But whatever happens, today’s kids will no longer have LeVar Burton’s affable voice and smiling face encouraging them to begin their literary journeys. And funding issues and educational philosophies aside, it is a substantial loss.
Selected Book Releases, September 14-20
Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol comes out on Tuesday. The question is, do I really need to put anything else on here? (But I will anyway, because I know there must be at least one other person out there in Bookland who doesn’t plan on reading it.) Though I also suspect Ted Kennedy’s autobiography is also going to do quite well, in light of his recent passing. The moral of the story: allot yourself extra time at the Barnes & Noble checkout line this week.
True Compass: A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakakuer
The Sibley Guide to Trees by David Allen Sibley
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: How My Company and I Transformed Our Purpose, Sparked Innovation, and Grew Profits—by Respecting the Earth by Ray Anderson
The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, intro. by Jon Scieszka
Bounce: The Art of Turning Tough Times into Triumph by Keith McFarland
Little Bird of Heaven: A Novel by Joyce Carol Oates
The War After Armageddon by Ralph Peters
Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World by Vali Nasr
Top Producer by Norb Vonnegut
Seven Days of Rage: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer by Paul LaRosa and Maria Cramer
The Brown Fat Revolution: Trigger Your Body’s Good Fat to Lose Weight and Be Healthier by James Lyons, M.D.
The Phoenix Transformed by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson
Where Hope Begins:One Family’s Journey Out of Tragedy—and the Reporter Who Helped Them Make It by Alysia Sofios
Will Shortz Presents Coffee and Sudoku, intro. by Will Shortz
Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
Mathilda Savitch: A Novel by Victor Lodato
Long Past Stopping by Oran Canfield
The Machine by Joe Posnanski
Ladies of the Lake: A Novel by Haywood Smith
Rehnquist by Herman Obermayer
The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman
Chocolate, Please by Lisa Lampanelli
No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacquelyn Mitchard
You Were Always Mom’s Favorite by Deborah Tannen
Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell