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The Story We Find Ourselves In: Why Literacy is Alive and Well

Posted by Jen on September 11, 2009 at 9:11 AM in Jen
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Last week I asked my good friend and Common Sense Media critic Sandie Angulo Chen to share her thoughts on the end of Reading Rainbow, one of the longest running shows in the history of PBS. Sandie shared her disappointment about the show ending, but more importantly her concern that in letting shows like this go, PBS (and other media outlets) are losing their focus on literacy and the love of reading.

Since then there's been a deluge of requests for the show to be brought back with hundreds of people writing letters, posting to fan pages on Facebook and otherwise demanding that PBS reverse their decision. PBS is standing firm, citing the fact that Reading Rainbow hasn't had a new episode in five years and that its current fan base has not been vast or strong enough to prop up even the most minimal ratings. Case closed, and with PBS's serious commitment to children's literacy in other venues (programming first and foremost), it makes perfect sense.

The conversation still on the table, however, is this notion that love of literacy is losing its foothold in today's culture and that the current media climate contributes to this potential deterioration. This, I suspect, as evidenced by the furor surrounding Reading Rainbow at the moment, speaks to our nostalgia for a simpler time, and while we lament our lost childhoods where the best way to learn to read was to tag along with your mother to the library, our children race through their paces, mastering (and adoring) their march to literacy with the likes of Super Why and Word Girl.

Let's face it. Times are changing. Books will always be our creature comforts when it comes to connecting to our children, but the real bonding time to be had over literacy today is to pull up a chair while your kids dazzle you with what they can read and understand while whizzing through this or that educational website. It's also, to be perfectly honest, being willing to sit and listen while they read through this or that incredibly intricate story unfolding on their favorite video game.

While my children still love books, they do so, not because of what this or that TV show or public service campaign says that they should. They love books because they love reading and the written word for them lives in all forms--online, on TV, even on the text messages Madeleine gets on her cell phone. Their love of story is driven, not exactly like mine was (from immersion in the full length novel) but from the open-ended narratives they encounter online, where they themselves are the producers of content, where the choices they make with a click of a button, give them the power to create a whole new world.

This will be bad news to those of you with preschoolers or those of you who like me once wished that they'd read quietly in their rooms, musing on the classics for hours. But it's very good news for those of us who want to be part of the new wave of literacy (and parental bonding about literacy) with our children. Because of the changing landscape in programming and digital media, we have the opportunity right now to be connected to our kids in a brand new way. By asking questions, being curious and modeling our own passion for literacy in the chair right next to them, we make ourselves a part of not only the stories they read wherever they read them right now, but also the story of their lives that digital media helps them to create.

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