Thanks for 26 Years, LeVar
Yesterday, I heard the sad news that the 26-year-old PBS show Reading Rainbow is reaching its end due to lack of funding. It's the 3rd-longest running PBS show of all-time, next to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers.
In my opinion, it is also LeVar Burton's greatest legacy. Sure, he wowed the world with his performance in Roots, and many people know him best as Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
But me? I'll always love Burton for his passion for getting millions of children excited about books. Reading Rainbow had nothing to do with sounding out letters of the alphabet or using phonics. His show wasn't about teaching children to read. (However, the shows that do are the ones still getting their funding.)
Reading Rainbow was about teaching children that reading is worth doing. That there is a magical world out there, waiting to be discovered. That reading is fun and exciting and valuable. Have a question? Find the answer in an book. You can be transported to wonderful places, use your imagination, fuel your curiosity, discover new things, all through the power of books.
The show even had other children give their own reviews, showing titles they loved and explaining why they enjoyed them.
Reading Rainbow was all about the why. That is just as important as the how.
If you teach a child to read, but that child refuses to do it, really, what is the point? What good does it do that child if he or she can't use that skill in school, in college, at work, in life? Especially in this ever-increasingly computerized world where nearly every job a person will have will require some kind of reading and writing communication?
My good friend and critique group member (and now published author!) Lu Ann Staheli, has been teaching junior high English for three decades. (That alone should grant her sainthood.) In that time, she's learned that she can get virtually any struggling student reading at grade level or beyond by the end of the year.
Even better, she can get any reluctant reader with their nose planted in a book within a matter of weeks.
How does she do it? She has some tricks she's learned over the years, but most of it boils down to what Reading Rainbow has been doing for a generation: get kids excited about books. Help them find the right book for them, ones they want to read and will find interesting. To help them find a point to reading that goes beyond an assigned classic that they hated.
I have a real passion about this topic because literacy affects so much of society. If adults read a lot and read well, that fact alone will impact their lives (and the lives of their families) in massive ways.
I wrote an article about some of those ways HERE, but that piece really scratched the surface of how literacy impacts our communities in ways you probably never imagined. Some of the research I've done on it is really startling. It's enough to make you want to cram a truckload of books into every child's arms.
As a result of all this, I'm mourning the passing of Reading Rainbow.
I tip my hat to LeVar Burton and the work he's done for the last 26 years. He is one person who truly understands that reading is so much more than sounding out a bunch of words.
And for that, Mr. Burton, you have this mother's deep gratitude.
Butterfly in the sky,
I can fly twice as high . . .