No pot of gold at the end of Reading Rainbow
- August 28, 2009 5:26 PM |
- By Arts Online
Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
Sad news for '80s kids and other fans of quality educational programming. Today marks the final episode of Reading Rainbow, the bookish series that convinced countless kids to view literature as a portal to rousing adventures and interesting discoveries.
Actor LeVar Burton may have a number of more, er, high-profile roles (Kunta Kinte from Roots, Star Trek's visor-sporting Geordie LaForge) on his resume, but to the generations that learned their A-B-Cs from the mid-80s onward, he'll always be best known as the warm and witty host of Reading Rainbow. The classic children's show has been going strong on PBS for just over a quarter of a century. NPR reports that the plug is being pulled because none of the usual suspects (PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, home station WNED Buffalo) wants to pony up the cash necessary to renew Reading Rainbow's broadcast rights.
In the same story, NPR reporter Ben Calhoun claims that, according to WNED content manager John Grant, the show's demise may be connected to an ideological shift within educational programming. One of the fantastic things about Reading Rainbow was the way in which Burton and his producers gently connected the stories in the featured books with children's real-world activities. Instead of approaching literature from a stodgy schoolmarm perspective and focusing on reading as a task that had to be mastered, the show encouraged viewers to use narratives as a jumping-off point for flights of the imagination.
The program's soulful theme song made this idea explicit: "Butterfly in the sky," went the somewhat cloying lyrics, "I can go twice as high. / Take a look, it's in a book / A reading rainbow..." Roll your eyes all you want at the jingle's aspirational tone -- like Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow coaxed kids to make an instinctive, unbreakable connection between dusty old words on a page and their own wild and woolly fantasy lives.
It's truly the end of an era. But as LeVar Burton would say, you don't have to take my word for it. Any readers out there with fond memories of Reading Rainbow?
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