Early on the morning of February 5th, my pregnant wife struggled to breathe. She woke me, and we walked or waddled downstairs and sat on the couch together. It was sometime around 3 am. I rubbed her back. Her breathing slowed and became normal again; I moved to the chair so she could lie down. We turned on the television, but kept the volume low because it was early in the morning. For some unknown reason, we ended up watching PBS. Reading Rainbow came on, a show we both watched as children. Maybe we watched it for a strange comfortable nostalgia, in the midst of a stressful night.
I remember thinking, about my daughter who was still in the womb and thirty weeks along: she will be born into a world where children still watch Reading Rainbow. I watched Reading Rainbow. In this I found comfort. Connection.
Roughly twenty hours later, after fitful sleep and a visit to the doctor and emergency drive to the hospital and a battery of tests, my daughter was born at 11:23 pm. She was ten weeks early. Yet, she was born into a world where children still watched Reading Rainbow.
And so yesterday, I took note on my drive into work. Reading Rainbow, after a 26-year run, was ending. No one wanted to fund it anymore. Research has passed it by, someone said. Now, experts realize that television shows must teach phonics and decoding, not like Reading Rainbow. You see, the television show about reading that I grew up with, that I watched on the day my daughter was born, taught a love for books. Not phonics. Not decoding. Love.
I almost laughed out loud as experts debated the best way that television could teach literacy. I spoke to the radio, alone in the car: television can’t teach literacy. Parents and teachers teach literacy, not television.
I know I am biased. But I wonder about the ending of this show, and what it means for our culture at large. This decision stresses function, or perceived function, over love. How often we do this at all levels of education. In graduate school classes, we analyze and critique books, and forget to tell what we love about them. We examine history and its interpretations, we analyze holy texts and their veracity, we deconstruct political performances.
Yet, beneath all this, there is a human heart that wants connection and passion and adventure. We love history for the imagination of it, or holy texts for the truth and mysticism in them, or political performances for their hope. We love books for their stories, for the swirl and rush of words, for their unraveling of human hurts and hopes. Yes, this love brings about study and deconstruction and analyzation. But, we mustn’t forget the love. We mustn’t forget to love.
The end of Reading Rainbow, for me, is about a small loss of connection with my past and with my daughter. I hope that it is not about a large loss of love for many, many more.