At least two generations of Americans, can relate their love of reading with a simple theme song and and affable television host LaVar Burton, (also known for his role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.) on Reading Rainbow. You remember, "Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high. Take a look, it's in a book. A Reading Rainbow"
Reading Rainbow, was a PBS staple from 1983 to 2006 - and aired in reruns until 2009. Now, the very man who took children on video field trips and introduced them to countless books - wants to bring back Reading Rainbow, for every child, everywhere. He has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for production of the program. Unsurprisingly, due to the public's overwhelming memories and fond affection for Burton, the effort raised one million dollars in one day. Eight hours to be exact. Twenty four hours later, the tally was two million.
The understated brilliance of the original Reading Rainbow was it's focus on the love of reading. Rather than target fundamentals or reading comprehension skills, Burton's manner encouraged kids to lose themselves in a story. As the very theme song suggests, reading allows the reader to be anyone, become anything and do anything. When you're lost in a book, you become the main character having that adventure. It's like a movie but better.
Oddly, that's where the dissenters chime in. (Yes, LaVar Burton has dissenters. Who knew?!) They suggest that such generous funding would be better spent on non-profit programs like the Children's Literacy Initiative.
Ideally, there would be room for both. We need campaigns that encourage children to read for the love of it. There is a time for teaching rudimentary skills and critical thinking, and that time investment would yield more success in a classroom full of kids who truly enjoy reading.
Like many things, what is good is not always so simple.
According to a Washington Post report, when the PBS cancelled Reading Rainbow in 2009 due to lack of funding, it was over the "several hundred thousand dollars" required to produce the program in a way that was best to teach kids to read. The Education Department grants went instead to programs targeting low-income kids.
Burton has always maintained that teaching reading is different from teaching a love of reading. Today, instilling that joy of the written word requires different mediums and more of them. Not just television, but interactive applications - for iPads, tablets and smartphones. Computer coding instead of video production. Touch screen commands instead of a charming host. In 2012 Reading Rainbow launched an iPad app, which quickly became the most popular educational application on iPad. Now, Burton wants to make that programming available for all children, those who don't have access to computers and tablets at home.
Launching this campaign through Kickstarter was a brilliant move. It tugs on the emotional tie today's adults and parents have with Reading Rainbow, which empowered them to read, and they're eager to pay it back.
Seriously, there is a real emotional tie... just look at the comments on the Reading Rainbow theme song YouTube video... I'm not the only one moved to tears when I hear it.