Monday, September 14, 2009

Bye bye Burton

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2009 at 5:39 PM

Say it isn’t so. A legendary childhood TV fave of mine recently met its demise. After 26 years — nearly my whole life — of convincing kids that reading is cool (and I have the library to prove it), the scholastic staple Reading Rainbow was pulled off the air two Fridays ago.

Sooo ... no weekday morning before school Electric Company. No Schoolhouse Rock interspersed with Saturday morning cartoons. Now, no hypnotically cheerful LeVar Burton. No wonder some kids don’t think learning is fun. Poor children of the future. Just how will they learn anything? Internet, schminternet. It’s creepy out there. But Reading Rainbow — now that was a wholesome, good ol’ fashioned learning machine.

The program earned more than two-dozen Emmy awards and was the third-longest running children’s show in PBS history behind Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. According to NPR, John Grant, who is responsible for content at WNED Buffalo, RR’s home station, said no one, including the station, PBS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, would put up the several hundred thousand dollars that would have renewed the show’s broadcast rights.

NPR reports that changes in educational initiatives are to blame as well. That is, whereas RR “operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books”, research is now directed at the basic tools of reading such as phonics, spelling, and reading fundamentals. Blah, blah, blah ... I get it.

OK, so maybe I don’t remember the title of any book that was ever on that show. However, I do remember being excited about the wonderful world of imagination and how all you had to do to get lost in a different daydream everyday was turn a page. I don’t think I even realized I was learning, expanding my thought processes, developing my creative juices. And how could anyone forget that theme song — Butterfly in the sky/I can go twice as high/take a look/it’s in a book . . . I would go on, but I think I feel a tear forming.

So I was a book nerd. But RR got me where I am today. You see, RR made me love reading. Reading made me a better writer. Being a better writer got me A’s in English. A’s in English got me everywhere. The rest is history.

Thank goodness for companies who are salvaging the life of this wonderful program by selling it on DVD. At least this way, future generations will benefit from the educational value that this program, cleverly cloaked in 30-minute increments of fun, fancy and fantasy, had to offer.

And they won’t have to take my word for it.

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