reading rainbow no more

i would sing the title tune long after i stopped watching reading rainbow. i appreciated host, levar burton's ease and enthusiasm for reading, for stories, and imagination. i can't make a direct causal link, but i don't think it's a coincidence that what continues to inspire me to inquire is the study of literacies. so as i read the headline on npr - 'Reading Rainbow' Reaches Its Final Chapter - i was prepared to read about a natural end, like "mr. rogers' neighborhood," which officially buttoned up its cardigan in 2001.

but as i read and learned of the funding trends that contributed to the show's demise. a few excerpts:
The show's run is ending, Grant explains, because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show's broadcast rights.
and perhaps even more frustrating was this bit of analysis:
"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."
i'm reminded of recent conversations i've been having with older youth in their late teens and early 20s. among the topics we've been discussing is the paucity of "why" discourse. collectively, they reflected on the relatively few instances when they were encouraged to really question, explore, and understand why they engaged in any particular practice or action. this made me wonder, where are there spaces for the kind of critical questioning that cultivates sustained inquiry? do we care if kids now become thinking adults later? can we afford to distill education down to discrete and scripted moments of skill-based interactions?

it saddens me that, given growing evidence of the many different ways kids not only learn to read but also cultivate myriad literacy practices, that the thrust of public funding and policy is being driven by myopic understandings of literacy.

the article closes with the following musings:
Reading Rainbow's impending absence leaves many open questions about today's literacy challenges, and what television's role should be in addressing them.

"But" — as Burton would have told his young readers — "you don't have to take my word for it."
more thoughts on this shortsighted decision:
Did Education Dept.'s Shift Help Kill PBS's 'Reading Rainbow'?
Reading Rainbow Reads Its Final Chapter on PBS
In Memoriam: “Reading Rainbow”


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