My good friend and PBS fan Sandie Angulo Chen and I were sitting at my kitchen table the other night mourning the loss of Reading Rainbow--a television show as dear to us as Mister Rogers neighborhood itself. While I saw the show's end as a natural turn of events--when was the last time your kid read a book because they essentially saw a review on TV?--my friend Sandie (who also happens to be a career journalist and very savvy media critic for Common Sense Media) pointed to the end of an era and a particular relationship we as parents have with the media when it comes to books and the love of reading.
I invited her to share her full opinion here, and I invite you to respond. Do you think our culture is falling short in teaching the love of reading to children by creating shows that focus specifically on the mechanics?
I'll give you my two cents in a separate post, but I wanted you to hear Sandie's take on it:
It was with a surprising sadness that I read that PBS' third-longest-running series, Reading Rainbow, would be airing its final episode on Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 -- after 26 years on television. I couldn't stop singing the theme song -- "Take a look, it's in a book, Reading Raaainbow" -- for days, and I felt like it was the end of an era.
To me, the show's end signals a fundamental shift in the way we view educational television -- and possibly childhood literacy as a whole. The emphasis, as PBS' Vice President for Children's Programming Linda Simensky told NPR last week, is no longer on teaching a love of books or an introduction to great children's literature, but on teaching young kids how to read. Full stop.
Why can't there be room for both in children's television? Of course shows like Super WHY! and WordGirl should be commended for providing preschoolers with the tools to unlock words. As studies have shown, kids who aren't necessarily read to at home benefit most from these types of early literacy programs. In fact, educational television is preschool for some children.
But what about kids who are read to on a daily basis, who do take trips to the library with their parents? Reading Rainbow spoke to them, reinforcing their love of books by stressing literary themes and the out-and-out wonder of storytelling. It provided the tools for examining a book -- thinking about its plot, its themes, its life applications. That's just as vital, in my opinion, as learning to break down a word phonetically or how "cat" and "hat" rhyme.
Like many adults in their twenties and thirties, I have fond memories watching LeVar Burton introduce new books (at age 6 or 7, I desperately wanted to be chosen as one of the kids who gave book reviews on the show). As a mother, I've often referred to the show's Web site for book recommendations, many of which are among my children's favorites.
It's a shame that there won't be any additional Reading Rainbow picks for my children to enjoy. It's a shame that a show about the joy of reading can't co-exist with programs stressing how to read.
What do you think? Give it to us straight Supersisters--in the comments below.