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Take a look, it's in a book - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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Take a look, it's in a book [May. 30th, 2014|10:50 am]
Zoethe
I'm sure almost all of you have heard about LeVar Burton's wildly successful Kickstarter to bring back Reading Rainbow. The goal was a million dollars, and by the end of day three they will probably be hitting three million.

But almost as soon as the Kickstarter was opened, The Washington Post ran an article discouraging people from donating. You might want to reconsider that donation to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter is completely wrong-headed and, I believe, points to one of the reasons why literacy is falling and continues to fall.

The article cites PBS' reason for canceling Reading Rainbow as "no longer the best way to teach kids reading skills." In the funding crunch of decreased taxpayer money for Public Broadcasting, there also came a tragic shift in the philosophy of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:

"The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration...which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.... Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books."

In other words, Reading Rainbow was one more casualty of No Child Left Behind.

Reading Rainbow never had the goal of teaching children to read. As quoted above, it was all about fostering a love of books, the love of narrative structure, the love of story.

It is staggering to me that such a love is now considered to be simply a "luxury." And it is appallingly short-sighted. It begs the question: "what is reading for?" And if the answer is simply, "to minimally function in the world," then it's no wonder that literacy is dropping like a stone from the sky.

Phonics and spelling never caused anyone to fall in love with stories. They never introduced anyone to new ideas or different cultures. They never expanded anyone's idea of the world. The notion that we can create a literate populous simply by teaching them phonics and "fundamentals" is absurd. Why should kids care, if there is nothing to touch their imaginations? I've spent the last half hour looking at reading materials for different grades, and they are dreadful. Grinding sheets of uninteresting story snippets followed by multiple choice "comprehension" questions. I was a kid who loved to read, and I hated--HATED--the once-a-year assessment tests that included these kinds of questions. No wonder kids who are in these programs don't see anything positive about reading. There is none of the magic or wonder of good story-telling in that kind of learning.

Are phonics and spelling important? Certainly. Learning to read depends on them. But they are not the whole of the toolbox for learning to understand story and love reading. It's like teaching someone to use a hammer, a saw, and a screwdriver, and then stepping back and thinking you've taught them to build a doghouse. They cobble together something vaguely doghouse-shaped, and you lament that the doghouse is inadequate, but assume that all that's needed is better hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills. And when that doesn't work, you spend all your resources on new methods for teaching and testing hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills, never questioning if your student is missing some other important steps in learning how to use their skills to successfully build a project.

Will Reading Rainbow's return--onto the web and mobile apps--teach children phonics and spelling? No. But it will enrich their lives with story and enthusiasm for reading and books. It will help kids learn that their basic skills are for something more than just filling out comprehension worksheets and passing tests. And for our populous to be actually literate, those things are not a luxury item.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: lawchicky
2014-05-30 03:14 pm (UTC)
I cannot tell you how many books I wanted to read just because they were featured on Reading Rainbow. One, in particular, became one of my absolute favorites, which I made my mother take out from the library so many times that she eventually bought it for me to avoid the hassle (I still remember it- Gregory the Terrible Eater).

My daughter is starting to turn into an avid reader, but the whole method has changed so much these days. There are fewer book stores to walk around and explore, and I find myself having to search through amazon.com on my own and then suggest titles to her. I can see how something like Reading Rainbow might open her up to new books that she would enjoy.

Even morso, my five year old is just beginning to read, and (being an easily distracted boy), seems only to want to focus on things that he's already determined to be interesting enough. Something like Reading Rainbow would easily interest him in books enough to make him WANT to read them.
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-05-30 08:01 pm (UTC)
I know that book and I think it might be because of Reading Rainbow.
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[User Picture]From: dr_phil_physics
2014-05-30 03:47 pm (UTC)
PBS makes a decision based on tight funds years ago, so that's a reason not to fund a Kickstarter now? Yeah, I am oversimplifying and leaving out the No Child Left Behind business, too, but isn't this what private funding is supposed to be? The meteoric response to Reading Rainbow should speak of its support, the love that people have of story.

It wasn't Reading Operating Manuals. It wasn't Reading Regulations. It was Reading Rainbow.

Geesh.

Dr. Phil
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[User Picture]From: naath
2014-05-30 04:04 pm (UTC)
So public money can't afford to provide this... OK, well I might disagree but it's not my choice. How is that a reason to not give my *private money* to giving kids this "luxury" that they seem to want?

I never did phonics, but strangely enough I learned to read anyway. Presumably because all the awesome books my parents read to me lead me to think that reading was awesome. Kids are great at learning things when given the incentive to do so, I think it's much more important to show them that reading can be awesome fun than drill them on phonics.
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[User Picture]From: kid_lit_fan
2014-05-30 04:16 pm (UTC)
I only slightly remember learning to read from Janet and Mark books, but I vividly remember some of the stories my early elementary school teachers read. I remember the bitter disappointment, when I was six and my mom said "You can read this for yourself now" and stopped reading bedtime stories to me.

My dad and I, who were both completely literate, me being 17 and he being 46 when it began, used to watch Reading Rainbow together sometimes,because it was joyous and we'd learn new stories, and the connecting field trips in between were fun.

Basically, the world can always use more people reading aloud with expression!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2014-05-30 06:30 pm (UTC)
I read novels to my kids at bedtime until they were in Junior High! Reading aloud is a wonderful sharing time.
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2014-05-30 04:32 pm (UTC)
I didn't have a Reading Rainbow, but I had a Dad who loved to read and wanted so much more than "Dick and Jane"!! Iremember in the 50's having the Bookmobile come to our school! You could only borrow two books at a time, and the bookmobile only came every three weeks!! It was like wanting a Sunday dinner and getting only a piece of bread with a skim of peanut butter spread over it!! I was one of the first to get a library card at our brand new local library!! It became my second home!!
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[User Picture]From: goldiebug
2014-05-30 05:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the excellent post. Good analogy with building a doghouse. I am over the moon that the Kickstarter raised this much money already, although I still wish the show could be on regular television to reach the many kids who still do not have Internet access or fancy e-devices and so will still never see any Reading Rainbow.
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[User Picture]From: mplsindygirl
2014-05-30 05:19 pm (UTC)
Wonderful essay. I loved Reading Rainbow and am excited for its return. To add another layer - we need more men of color like LeVar Burton as role models for being articulate, kind, and encouraging.
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[User Picture]From: jenk
2014-05-30 05:37 pm (UTC)
It begs the question: "what is reading for?" And if the answer is simply, "to minimally function in the world," then it's no wonder that literacy is dropping like a stone from the sky.

Friend: You'd rather read that go to a movie? Why?
Me: Movies are loud & bright & often give me headaches and eyestrain. Books let me go at my own pace.
Friend: But reading is slow! Boring!
Me: What? Each book is its own world! And you can read at your own pace! No need to fast forward during the slow parts or wanting to throw things at the screen when the character won't just SAY IT already!!
Friend: I...I don't get that.

Reading is a skill, but I'm not sure how to build that skill without love of story. It's odd.
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[User Picture]From: dr_phil_physics
2014-05-30 07:55 pm (UTC)
Love your Read icon. I might have to steal it. (grin)

Dr. Phil
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[User Picture]From: grenacia
2014-05-30 11:31 pm (UTC)
That's very much how I feel about reading vs. movies too. I do like some movies, but they don't compare to books. Books are also easier to pick up when you have time and put down when you don't. Movies are sometimes too slow for me, other times too fast. Books I can read at whatever pace works for me, generally fast but varied.

All kids will learn the basic skills of reading. Things like Reading Rainbow are about increasing enjoyment, giving them the motivation to develop those skills.
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[User Picture]From: lunabird
2014-05-30 06:12 pm (UTC)
I'm also baffled how SPELLING is considered a reading skill.

I've been a crap speller all my life. I spell phonetically and via haphazard memorization on a handful of words. I get a LOT of help from spell-checks. It took me until adulthood to spell 'necessary' correctly on the first try, for example. I often will spell words so badly (Often based on their pronunciation with a southern accent) that the spell check will have no idea what I'm trying to write.

But I've been a voracious reader since childhood. At the risk of bragging, by any measure of reading comprehension I've encountered (the latest being the GRE) my levels have tested well above average. Statistically I'm in the top group of readers in the US while... being absolutely awful at spelling.

And I mean, I'm one point of data -- maybe I'm an abnormality -- but in my mind reading and spelling skills are not remotely linked. You learn spelling by memorization and drilling in English. You learn reading comprehension by reading a lot and learning to derive meaning not just from the words themselves, but from the order they are strung in. The pauses. The information that is not given as well as what IS given. Reading is not the skill of looking at a word and knowing what it means -- it is the skill of looking at a string of symbols and being able to conjure a person's voice out of that. Reading written language is as subtle as reading body language.

That Washington Post article boggled me, because you know what encourages kids to learn phonics? Lemme tell you, making them do rote drilling isn't gonna make them do that. But reading is. If they're eager about what they read then they'll struggle and scrap and bully phonics into their head so they can get at the story hidden in the strings of symbols. If you do not care about what you are reading then there is simply no incentive to learn to read.

You have to have a hunger for stories and information. Once you have that you'll get better at reading through the very best method for learning to read there is: Reading. A. Lot.
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-05-30 08:09 pm (UTC)
I understand why spelling, in general, is important. Good grammar is important. However, those things aren't the same as a love of reading and definitely aren't necessary to foster a love of reading. I have and have had teachers who can't spell well at all - it doesn't mean that they aren't good teachers.

Plus, a love of reading will help you with spelling and grammar. You'll begin to notice things just because you read.

The spelling bee is neat, but I honestly don't understand the parents that make their kids study how to spell words for hours a day. What good is that doing them? Have they actually learned other things or do they just know how to spell big words?
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[User Picture]From: valarltd
2014-05-31 01:59 am (UTC)
For me, spelling is intimately tied to reading. I'm a trained speed-reader and the words HAVE to be the right shape, or I stumble. My eyes jerk to a stop. The beautiful created world I've been absorbing falls away, and ka-thud, I'm back in reality, trying to puzzle out what the writer meant to say versus what the typesetter got on the page.

I can't play Scrabble at all. 7 random letters is just a jumble to me. But I read--less voraciously than I used to, down to about a book a week--and I write. Because the stories are the thing.
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[User Picture]From: brennye
2014-05-30 07:18 pm (UTC)
Phonics and spelling never caused anyone to fall in love with stories.

Burton agrees with you, which is why he's doing this. He was on NPR the first day of the campaign and basically paraphrased your statement there.

Thankfully, his return is more than just web and apps, he's going into classrooms. That's what the kickstarter was for, to pay for the expansion and upkeep of that kind of project. Free, for underprivileged schools.

I'm willing to pay for that 'luxury.'

Edited at 2014-05-30 07:19 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-05-30 08:13 pm (UTC)
I understand what the Washington Post is saying, but I also agree that they are wrong. I loved Reading Rainbow. I also loved Wishbone. Neither of those focused on learning how to read.

Even Sesame Street didn't solely focus on phonics - nor does it today. There are stories along with reading. Even as an adult, I would sometimes watch Between the Lions (and so did my Daddy, even if he denied it). They didn't just teach how to read. They had stories.
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From: serakit
2014-05-30 10:29 pm (UTC)
YAY! Another adult who liked Between the Lions! I was fairly young when that came out, but older than the target audience, and my mother took one look at it and declared me too old for it and forbade me to watch it. Possibly because of that, I liked it quite a bit and used to watch it on the sly, and I still do. Especially the musical sequence where someone sings about a letter. (The "W Troubles" song was wonderful.)

And Wishbone was *awesome*.
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[User Picture]From: valarltd
2014-05-31 02:00 am (UTC)
All my kids liked it. We were big fans of Dr. Ruth Wordheimer and Gawaine's World.
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-05-31 09:35 pm (UTC)
I loved those on there!
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[User Picture]From: kagomeshuko
2014-05-31 09:38 pm (UTC)
Yep! I loved The Adventures of Cliff Hanger and so did my Daddy. He even admitted to that one. Between the Lions originally started airing about a little less than three weeks and month before I turned 18.
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[User Picture]From: valarltd
2014-05-31 02:03 am (UTC)
I'm a Sesame Street kid (it started when I was 2)

I had grandparents who read to me. When my dad got an account with a children's book publisher, he read all the early copies to me and reported back. Yes, it's my fault (partially) your kids know all the words to _Brown bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?_ 8)

My kids loved Reading Rainbow. I'm pleased it's coming back
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[User Picture]From: docstrange
2014-05-31 11:58 am (UTC)
We had huge grins when we heard about this initiative from a radio interview with Burton. But I'm not surprised a Post columnist would condemn a program that's not centrally administered or not doing its good work solely as a non-profit, in favor of those that are. This favoritism of lossful "charity" (from a member of the for-profit, exec-comp-heavy, stockholder-driven, and money-losing 4th Estate that was itself rescued by private money for the purpose of bringing back "the 'daily ritual' of reading"!!!) shows one of the great myths of charitable giving in our culture. 501(c)(3) orgs often wildly overpay their exec teams (coincidentally often founders) while poorly compensating their workers, who accept that low pay out of optimism and love of the mission. Meanwhile, a "for-profit" charitable org can compensate its management on a scale driven by dollars raised and distributed or services delivered, pay its workers well, all while out-raising and outperforming the 501(c)(3)s.

At the end of the day, is it moral to let a poorly-examined moralism get in the way of doing actual good? Is a wasteful, exec-comp-heavy, for-profit "public service" like a big city newspaper in any position to criticize? Especially one that just last year saw its own $250M version of a kickstart angel?

Don't get me wrong, Reading Rainbow's not going to be forced to report its financial distributions, nor its exec comp, so the article's criticism has some ground under its feet. The RR reboot might turn out to be a boondoggle. But so are at least half the so-called charitable organizations out there. Private giving and volunteer work are a powerful ways to change the world. We shouldn't let a mythos that only non-profits or government can do good (and what government can give, it can take in an instant - ask PBS*), or veterans for that matter). I don't see a difference between the risk of personal donations to RR being a bust and the risk of volunteering for a charity event that is run so poorly, it's wasting inordinate amounts of money. Big deal, and the potential for good is great.

(*) Mind, the loss of funds to public broadcasting was under 10% of its total annual run rate, and ultimately has taken it out of being a political football. An idealism that government oversight would keep it honest fell to the reality that government oversight means bending to political winds.
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[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2014-06-01 05:36 am (UTC)
Don't you know that reading for pleasure is only for the wealthy? Everyone else only needs to be literate enough to read instructions so that they can function in their service job.
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From: anonymousalex
2014-06-01 07:38 pm (UTC)
Let me preface this by saying that 1) I am, and have been as long as I can remember, an inveterate reader, but 2) I am not in the age cohort for Reading Rainbow, and therefore have no emotional ties to it.

Your main point--that love of reading is both a good unto itself and a motivation for learning the "mechanics" of reading--seems to me to be patently obvious. Which is why I force myself to remain open to contradiction on that point, particularly in light of statements like "Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight."

Does that mean that, contrary to my assumption, there is evidence that the love of reading isn't such a great motivator? I have no evidence of that, just a generous reading of an arguably ambiguous statement. So I'm not changing my opinion until presented with some actual evidence, but I'm not denying the possibility, either.

-Alex
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