Friday, August 28, 2009

At the End of the Rainbow

Reading Rainbow ends its 26-year run today.

That article made me terribly sad for some reason.

Maybe it's the push for phonics and letter-recognition over just getting kids excited to read. I think it's a bad decision to entirely drop one in favor of the other. Perhaps that decision was just more Bush-era stupidity. Perhaps - and this, I think, is what bothers me most - is that they are inherently assuming that you can teach a kid to read just by letting them watching TV. This overblown myth has become so pumped-up in our popular culture that many people take it as gospel. Baby Einstein DVDs and Leap Frog "learning systems" are just two products in the sea of items extremely aggressively marketed to today's parents as ways to make your kids smarter, just by plopping them in front of a screen.

While Reading Rainbow did make the assumption that kids already knew how to read (which, it turns out, a lot of them don't these days, even after graduating high school), it got them excited about reading. It let them do their own book reviews and encourage other kids to read the books. It portrayed books as fun, an adventure behind every cover, a new world contained between the pages. I feel that mentality has been lost somewhere along the way, despite all the push for teachers to "make learning fun." I think the love of learning is something that has been slowly eroded from our culture in the past ten years or so. "Intellectual" has become a dirty word. The Bush administration's lack of respect for education - both financially and culturally - has taken hold of America's collective consciousness. We have reached a point where we cannot have a television show about books, because our children cannot read. That does not bode well for our future.

I want to say something here about the dreadful state of America's public schools, display my outrage at the way education budgets are always the first to be gutted. I want to complain about the idiotic way that today's students are wheelbarrowed through grade levels, the way test scores are fudged and students are basically not made to do anything that they don't want to do. I want to ask why teachers are so vilified in education debates, why even Obama goes after them, when they are doing the best they can with the totally crappy resources at hand.

But instead I will just lament the loss of this fine show and wonder what my daughter will race home from school to watch in a few years' time. Something on the Disney Channel perhaps? Or Noggin? Video games? Online programming?

I don't think so. I'd rather have all the screens in our house silent and dark, the only sound in the house that of her voice as she sounds out the words in the book we are reading together.


lanakae said...

It is sad to hear the show ending because it was such a good show. I often wonder too what programs and movies will be out there in a few years. It is so bad now, even some of the cartoons I wouldn't let my daughter watch.

Antoinette said...

This is very interesting to me, both from a media standpoint and as a parent of a young reader. Even if programming is headed in the direction of "teaching nuts and bolts", doesn't it make sense to round it out with a complementary "why" kind of show for the older kids who are more likely to need motivation to continue reading on their own?