Taking a look at "Reading Rainbow"

Published On:
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
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I never went to day care after school. My babysitter was daytime television programming.

Among those programs was “Reading Rainbow,” with its host LaVar Burton. Aug. 28, the Public Broadcasting System stopped airing reruns of the program, which stopped production of new episodes in 2006.

John Grant is in charge of content at WNED-TV in Buffalo, N.Y., “Reading Rainbow’s” home station. In an article for National Public Radio, Grant said the decision to stop airing the show was partly because nobody would front the money to renew the show’s broadcast rights.

Another reason for the show’s end is former President George W. Bush. Yes, now you can blame him for this, too.

According to the article, the Department of Education under Bush began a shift in educational programming, wanting to see more focus on teaching kids how to read, rather than to enjoy doing it.

That’s really an obtuse way to approach educational programming.

Children watch television because they find it enjoyable. “Reading Rainbow” taught them to enjoy reading.

How many children are going to enjoy learning to read? It’s difficult and frustrating. Just because you put it on television doesn’t mean they will like doing it.

As well, they shouldn’t. Kids should suck it up and just do it. They don’t have to enjoy every moment of existence.

And if they don’t know how to read, then watching television is the last thing they should be doing.

In 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that about 14 percent of American adults were lacking basic prose literacy skills.

I think it’s safe to say that no television program would have taught them how to read. But, it could have taught them that reading could be fun, which would have given them more motivation to engage themselves. I learned geography so I could finally find Carmen Sandiego.

It’s understandable to want kids to learn while they are doing something as asinine as watching television. It’s also understandable to want TV executives to stop making sassy nurse shows. Some things just won’t happen.

Even if it worked, it would be counterproductive in the end. Just because you have baking shows on ESPN, doesn’t mean that sports fans will learn to bake. Even if you force them to watch it, and they learn how to make snickerdoodles, what incentive do they have to use their new knowledge?

“Reading Rainbow” may not have taught me how to read, but it taught me to like books. Burton, Mr. Rogers and Bill Nye ultimately taught me to enjoy learning, and not just about penguins or tectonic plates. It wasn’t their job to give me standardized tests to grade my progress.

If only there were a place dedicated to teaching kids how to read. Where they could go for several hours a day. There could be trained professionals and everything. And best of all, it would be free!

Now that would be something. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Reach Chris at cogino@asu.edu.