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.