Reading Rainbow and the priorities of Common Core

A few weeks ago all my online friends lost their minds. It seemed Levar Burton was trying to re-boot Reading Rainbow. Suddenly, everyone and their mom had some money to chip in. The kick starter raised over a million dollars in just 12 hours. It was insane. It was insane to see just how much we all loved Reading Rainbow, and it was insane to see the reason it was cancelled in the first place.

Apparently, Reading Rainbow was cancelled because all it did was teach kids a love of reading, and we don’t do that anymore in this country.   Because it did not teach kids how to read, Reading Rainbow was no longer important. . That was no longer the point of public television. And that is no longer the point of education. Check the Common Core standards. It is no longer in my job description to teach kids to love books. I do it anyway, but building interest is often described by evaluators as “not rigorous” and “superfluous.” Students will learn to love reading and understand that it is an enjoyable activity, isn’t part of the common core so it isn’t worth spending time on. After all, their won’t be any questions about the love of learning on the standardized test.

Do you remember your favorite teachers? Your best teachers? I do. I took environmental science my senior year of High school because my mom wanted me to get my honors diploma. I have never once been asked if I graduated high school with honors, but I am very glad I took that class. Mr. Z taught environmental science. I think he had created the whole course, and he loved it. He loved it. He loved the worms we grew and the lettuce in the hydroponic shelves. He loved going out to the creek with us and helping us collect samples that we diagnosed. He loved the science of our own backyards, and he taught me to love it to.

I had hated science up to that point, scraping a C in biology and having to take chemistry twice. But Mr. Z showed me why it mattered. He explained how science can literally effect the creek in your back yard, how that water eventually comes out of your tap.  He made me really explore why worms are important to the food we eat. I suddenly understood how my world came together and why it was a big deal to dump your half drunk Mountain Dew on the marching band practice field because it was hot and flat. I don’t remember anything he taught me about PH levels. I could no longer tell you about the earth’s various levels. But now I carry a phone that can connect to an online encyclopedia. All that stuff has left my brain, but I don’t dump stuff on the sidewalk, and I think worms are really cool. Mr. Z did that, he taught me how to care about the earth around me. Just like Ms. Lane taught me to care about the rain forest when I was in the fourth grade.

Mr. Z and Levar Burton have a lot in common. Reading Rainbows main goal is to make kids fall in love with books, and it is clear from the support that was poured out onto the Kickstarter campaign to re-boot Reading Rainbow, it worked. My generation loves the way Reading Rainbow talks about books enough to pay for it this time around. Isn’t that worth something?

The Common Core standards says getting a kid to love a subject isn’t worth instructional time. Not explicitly, no. But this is the way that teaching now works, if it isn’t in the standards, I am not supposed to teach it. All of my instruction must be standards based. Reading Rainbow got cancelled because teaching a love for is not as valuable as teaching how. Teaching a love for is currently viewed as a waste of time.

Teaching a love for reading is probably the most important thing I can do in my room. My students are not going to remember every plot point and symbol in Lord of the Flies. They aren’t going to hold with them tightly exactly how the convoluted mess went down in Romeo and Juliet. Our brains don’t work like that. But I hope they remember that Shakespeare is fun and thoroughly enjoyable. I hope I teach them that literature is not just about what happens in a book, but what the book is saying about life. I hope I teach them that you are allowed to think a book is terrible that everyone else loves (especially if you know why), and that a really good book informs you about yourself and the way you operate in the world.

But all of that isn’t in the standards. It is seen as extra. It isn’t on the standardized test. Nothing Reading Rainbow taught can be tested via multiple choice. Instead, Reading Rainbow can rally people together to the tune of 3,732,306 of dollars in 16 days. That seems important to me, but I didn’t write the Common Core.



13 thoughts on “Reading Rainbow and the priorities of Common Core

  1. I think it’s misleading to isolate Common Core in this otherwise terrific post. After all, “love of reading” has not been a part of any set of curriculum standards. Certainly, the GPS standards that GA replaced with Common Core did nothing to emphasize love of reading either. So this post is really about the general problem of having standards-based instruction, and of the increasing emphasis on increasingly high stakes standardized testing, and has nothing to do with Common Core per se. I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said about the problem, except for the idea that Common Core is its cause. Common Core is itself only a symptom of said problem.

  2. This is great! LeVar is wonderful. Common Core isn’t the best solution and will be seen as such in due time by simply falling way short. I’m sorry you teachers get boxed in and blamed for that. I hope LeVar’s Reading Rainbow is brought back to public broadcasting as well as being an online experience. Public radio and public television should not be taken over by Koch brothers and energy company sponsors, for example, just because they out donate to those stations that rely on donations. Years ago, Rupert Murdoch took over National Geographic and dumbed down science. I had to cancel the subscription I’d had since I was nine. It’s sad. Thanks for plugging LeVar Burton whose early role in Roots taught all of America as it tuned in, about the realities of slavery. And for the record, Shakespeare stays with students… when a teacher cares about Shakespeare such as you do. No fear.

  3. Abby,
    I have always loved the idea that when teaching we need to expose a person to the why’s of something not just how to make it work for them. For example answering what does science do for me opens so many more doors than “just the facts maam.” It is hard to love that which you do not understand both things and people. Why should a person love to read? To answer that question in someone’s else mind can opens worlds untold to them. To expose a person to the ins and outs of something changes it in their mind. I do think to be understood is to be loved regardless if that is a person or a subject.

  4. Abby,
    Thanks for posting about this. I did not know about this. I donated on Kickstarter just now. Me and 80,000 others!! 🙂

  5. I an am adjunct math instructor at two of the local colleges. I can’t tell you the number of times that students have come back to me and told me “Math is still not my favorite subject, but it sure is nice to know why I need it.” Students need to see and learn from people that are passionate about the topics that they are teaching, it is infectious.

  6. Great explanation. My observations, albeit superficial, see that the role of teachers are to support bureaucratic administrations instead of the students. The mission has become reversed. Whenever you hear about needed budget cuts, it is always at the classroom level to get people worked up. Never do we hear recomendations for cutting bloated administrations. I have two grown daughters and the third is in college…all “victims” of 12 years of Catholic education because of where we lived in SC. That being said, I do give the governor credit here:

  7. Wasn’t Common Core dreamed up by Bill Gates to necessitate laptops for all students? The focus is on “informational texts” and as you observe, literature for the sake of storytelling is just not included and doesn’t seem to be considered important. Like you, I mourn the loss of literature as students lose our shared experience and culture that is mirrored in it– and builds a love of reading for entertainment’s sake. Will we look back in the years ahead and wonder what happened to novels, plays, and poetry?

  8. As a fellow teacher, I completely agree. Well said. When we started teaching skills in isolation and read passages instead of novels all our data shows a dip in the “literature” portion of the high stakes test. Gee, I wonder why? Anyway, before I digress into a giant rage monster, let me give a shout out to Reading Rainbow! It’s clear the pendulum is swinging back, Common Core or no. We on the front lines get it and we’ll never stop showing students that reading matters and is fun.

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