It’s dark at the end of the ‘Rainbow’

Books, Television
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LeVar Burton (Credit: WNED Buffalo)

Today marks the end of Reading Rainbow’s 26-year run on public television. Only Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street have aired on PBS longer.

The Emmy award-winning show, hosted by actor LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Roots), featured children’s books and literary reviews by and for kids. It has struggled to stay on the air for years, sometimes producing only a handful of episodes per season as funding dried up. Now, as National Public Radio reports, neither PBS nor the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can afford to renew the broadcast rights.

That’s just a shame.

The manager of WNED Buffalo, Reading Rainbow’s home station, told NPR the decision to cancel the show is the culmination of a philosophical shift that began in former President George W. Bush’s Education department.

The same people who brought us “No Child Left Behind,” pushing for an emphasis on phonics and spelling, didn’t see much value in a show that taught children the joy of using those tools to read.

This desire to reinforce the fundamentals, while laudable, was misguided if politicians and administrators actually believe that fun is not fundamental to reading.

Bush may not have been able to kill public broadcasting in America as he repeatedly attempted to do, but the death of Reading Rainbow can be likened to an unexploded bomb from his war on PBS that has finally, and tragically, gone off. The heart of PBS has been gravely wounded.

And today I can’t help feeling that, in fact, something important is being left behind.

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