Monday, August 31, 2009

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 . . .


17 comments:

Melanie J said...

I totally remember Reading Rainbow from when I was a kid but I had no idea it was still around until this past spring when we were watching a Star Trek: TNG marathon and my son got all excited. "Hey, that's the Reading Rainbow guy!"

Our kids are lucky to have parents who get excited about books but I feel sad for the kids who don't.

Don said...

This truly is a sad day. Reading Rainbow is the best!

Lara said...

I felt the exact same way as you did when I found out it was being cancelled and the reason why.

So sad. RIP Reading Rainbow. :(

Heffalump said...

That is so sad!

Teri said...

I was devastated, when I heard the news. As an avid reader, I never really had to find the "why" in reading for myself, it came naturally. On the other hand, my daughter is really struggling. It is alien to me that she doesn't spend her day reading....but I digress. She watched RR for a long time and loved it. She got something from it that I wasn't able to communicate to her. How sad that literacy has become such a low priority and funding is available for some new "reality" tv and not for this.

MommyJ said...

Take a look... It's in a book! Reading rainbow!

I can go anywhere!Friends to know, and ways to grow... Reading rainbow!

I'm so sad! I hadn't heard, but have always loved the show.

L.T. Elliot said...

That is a true tragedy. I tip my hat to LaVar, Lu Ann, and to my 10th grade History Teacher--who was desperately in love with reading and wanted all of us to be too.

heather said...

That is just too bad. :( It used to be one of my very favorite shows.

Heather of the EO said...

I hadn't heard this!

Bummed.

Love that show. For all the reasons you mentioned.

Great post, lady.

That Girl said...

Oh no! I didn't know.

Now I'm sad.

Amber Lynae said...

I love Reading Rainbow. Little Princess and I have watched it together. I don't know if it has had much impact since she is young, but I can tell you that girl has a HUGE imagination. Just today she was telling me some fun stories. I love it.


Sad day for all those that won't get to enjoy RR.

Karlene said...

No!!!!!

I taught reluctant readers for awhile. Once they get the "why" of it, they'll figure out the "how" on their own. You just have to get them excited about it.

Jo said...

I went to elementary school with LeVar, although he was Bobby in those days. He tutored my sister in reading when she was struggling. It always made me wonder if that is where his love for teaching reading came from. His sister was our student body prez when I was a freshman. He came from a really good, loving family.

Jessica G. said...

I thought for a moment there that Mr. Burton had joined the growing list of celebrities that died this summer! Whew...

And now I have the theme song stuck in my head.

Sher said...

OH, I used to love watching Reading Rainbow.

That, and 321 Contact.

OJT Mom said...

It's too bad they are dropping that program. I agree; reading is more than mechanics. When kids are excited to read, they learn to read and not before.

Blue said...

My sister has worked with LeVar on a few projects at CSLBU. I'm going to send her a note with a link to this in case she feels like sharing it with him Annette. He's a great guy, who has done so much for kids. ♥

PS: I'm making another one of my amazing Death By Chocolate cakes tomorrow, only instead of topped by fruit, it'll be topped with Lindt Truffles. I'll be thinking of you and your adventures with Chocolate while I'm thus engaged...

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