Though Reading Rainbow has been absent from television for five years and without an original episode for eight, former host LeVar Burton's passion for the educational series and childhood literacy has hardly waned.
In 2012, Burton followed his acquisition of the Reading Rainbow name and concept by launching a highly successful Reading Rainbow iPad app,. Now the Star Trek: The Next Generation actor wants to go bigger, launching a Kickstarter campaign to adapt the app into a browser-based model that can function as a teaching tool for schools and families that don't have access to a tablet.
So far, the campaign has been a success with more than $1.2 million (the initial goal was a million) raised from more than 27,000 backers thanks to ample media buzz and the pull of nostalgia. But while the response has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, The Washington Post has raised a few interesting points about this rebooted version of Reading Rainbow.
"It will not, let’s be clear, replicate the classic show that aired from 1983 to 2009. (Burton bought the rights to that show and its name and used them to spin off another company, RRKidz, which produces a Reading Rainbow tablet app.) The Kickstarter would essentially expand on that app, making it available on the Web and updating it with special tools for teachers — not for free, as the classic show was on PBS, but at a monthly subscription cost."
The article goes on to address the effectiveness the Reading Rainbow TV series at the time of its cancellation and whether continuing that concept as a computer-based educational tool is the most effective way to tackle the plague of illiteracy.
But while these are valid points, it seems clear that we need to do more than just get kids to a point where they can read, we need to get them to a point where they can't and won't put books down. Developing a lifelong passion for reading and a communal interest (among classrooms and peer groups) is vital and something that the original Reading Rainbow did for many of us.
Shows like Sesame Street, Mister Roger's Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow don't resonate merely because they are things from childhood, like a favorite action figure or a doll; these shows helped to nurture our innate sense of wonder and it introduced that part of our minds to the majesty of literature and words, things that sustain that sense of wonder still.
As for the for-profit aspect of this endeavor - so what? Sometimes we have this assumption of grand wealth when we look at those who are famous, specifically when they turn to crowd-funding, but oftentimes it isn't true. Even if it was and Burton did have the ability to drop a million dollars on the head of this problem and also fund the construction and maintenance of this resource, as he alludes to in the Kickstarter campaign video, he shouldn't have to do this alone and this really should be a community effort.
The question now is, where do they go from here? The campaign has jumped up to $1.4 million with just shy of 30,000 backers in the time that it has taken to write this article. On the campaign page, Burton says that the first million dollars raised will give a free subscription to 1,500 underprivileged schools, but how long will those subscriptions last and what metric is being used to select these schools?
Besides that, there are 34 days remaining in this Kickstarter campaign. Will each million raised go toward funding subscriptions for another 1,500 schools or toward paying for the subscriptions of underprivileged kids so that they can use the resource at home as well?
1,500 sounds like a lot of schools, and it is a lot of kids who can be helped by this initiative, these digital libraries and these video field trips. But there were more than 67,000 public elementary schools at last count back in 2013, and many that could surely use any help possible to fund a program like this.
As a society that is constantly refreshed by the contributions of young minds and new ideas, we can not afford to put distance between the outstretched hand of a child and the books that can set them free and set them on a path toward a fuller life. Burton's Reading Rainbow isn't the solution, but it seems like it could be a part of it.
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for more information on the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign as it becomes available.