R.I.P. Reading Rainbow

Book lovers, get out your black armbands. Today was the last broadcast of PBS’s wonderful children’s series Reading Rainbow.

For those of us weaned on The Electric Company and Sesame Street, the advent of Reading Rainbow occurred after we’d progressed from picture books to chapters. Even so, it was easy to get sucked in when a younger sibling or eventually a child of our own sat, rapt, listening to LeVar “Geordi LaForge” Burton (or even Kunta Kinte, for those of us old enough to remember watching all seven nights of Roots on broadcast TV) read aloud.

Reading Rainbow‘s approach was simple: pick a book, read it, make connections to people and places in the real world, encourage kids to hit the library. Those of us lucky enough to have parents who made library trips a priority don’t realize how vital the show was for kids who never went. Now that I’m a teacher, I can tell the difference. Man, can I tell the difference.

There’s a theory floating out there that a shift in the Federal Department of Education’s priorities–from whole works of literature to phonics-based instruction–helped kill off a show that exulted in books in their entirety. I’d hate to think that’s true, but the current slavering over “data-driven instruction” kicks holistic anything in the teaching world to the curb in favor of spreadsheets. Or things easily measured on spreadsheets. Read: standardized tests.

Of course, there’s nothing standardized about learning to read. Or loving to read. I fell in love with words early, thanks to a steady diet of Hop on Pop, Go, Dog! Go!, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, and other childhood classics (I could hear my father’s voice in my head when I read them to my own children). Too many kids with busy or absent parents never did. And now they no longer have LeVar’s voice, either. That’s a shame. Too bad for us that we’re so obsessed with numbers that we overlook the magic of words. Too bad for the kids that they’re paying the price.

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