teaching reading on TV and how it’s all changing

August 30, 2009

The PBS show Reading Rainbow, hosted by LeVar Burton ran its last show on Friday after 26 years on the air, reports NPR. This show was a serious staple of my childhood, as I imagine it was of many of yours as well. My favorite episode was the one where he cleans out his garage, followed closely by when he visits the beekeeper. I don’t think I need to go into the details about why this show was awesome. You already know.

According to NPR, neither WNED (the show’s host), PBS, nor the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is willing to put up the money for another season. The angle that NPR takes, which I think is most interesting, is that Federal priorities (initiated by the Bush Administration’s Department of Education) for reading-focused TV programming have moved to a more skills-centered (like phonics and spelling) area. The funding out there is being directed towards programming that emphases these new priorities, which apparently today’s research finds are more effective in the challenge of getting kids to read.

This shift represents yet another reallocation of our education resources away from creative, inspiring, fun content towards a focus on skills, skills, skills. The specter of state and national testing (and the obsession with it) for elementary school kids suddenly looms in my head. I know that research says that our kids need more of a foundation in the basic skills, that not having them prevents kids from succeeding later, etc, etc.

But (at the risk of hyperbole) what about the soul of childrens’ education? Has “reading is fun”, “learning is fun” really gone out of style now? Is it now, “do this — it’s good for you” ? That sounds like taking a bitter medicine to me. Everyone’s wringing their hands these days about how kids don’t read enough on their own. Something tells me that spelling and phonics (what is phonics, anyway?) aren’t the best tools for teaching a love of reading. To extrapolate from an N=1 study, I was (and still am) terrible at spelling and still unsure about some phonics, and I love to read. I loved it in elementary school (starting with the Redwall books), and I love it now. Also, I watched Reading Rainbow, which teaches kids about interesting things and shows them that other kids their own age like to read to, and can even articulate quite impressively why they liked a book.

Ergo, Reading Rainbow = love of reading. Sad that it’s gone now.


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