Rainbow Back: LeVar Burton's 'Reading Rainbow' Kickstarter Campaign Breaks $1M Goal--& Attracts Some Critics
LeVar Burton has launched the Bring Reading Rainbow Back For Every Child, EverywhereKickstarter campaign and surpassed the $1,000,000.00 funding goal within the first week. The campaign is designed to support his mission to "Bring Reading Rainbow's unlimited library of interactive books and video field trips to kids everywhere & help classrooms most in need!" Burton issued an emotional response to the campaign's early success
Reading Rainbow - created by Cecily Truett Lancit, Laurence Lancit, Twila Liggett, Lynne Ganek and Tony Buttino - launched on June 6, 1983 and ran until November 2006 on PBS with Burton at the helm as host and literary guide. Reruns of the program aired until May 2009 before being pulled from the public television rotation. The cancellation came despite the fact that the groundbreaking program had won over 200 awards during it's run, including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmys.
With donations to the campaign nearing the $3,000,000.00 mark it is obvious that love for the series and its mission have not waned. While enthusiasm for a resurrection of Reading Rainbow is at an all-time high, the proposed relaunch has faced recent criticism from those wary of the plans. A Washington Post article by Caitlin Dewey offers an argument against the enthusiastic donation effort:
By now, you’ve surely heard the news that the irrepressible LeVar Burton — late of “Star Trek,” “Roots” and the classic children’s show “Reading Rainbow” — has launched a $1-million Kickstarter to get a Rainbow reboot/spin-off online.
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.
His company will, Burton suggests, “change the lives of millions of children.”
It’s hard to disagree with that kind of optimism. It’s so imminently, self-evidently agreeable, in fact, that within hours of the fundraiser going up, more than 13,000 people have donated more than $600,000. But all the enthusiasm raises some obvious questions: If Reading Rainbow is so epically popular, then why was the show cancelled to begin with? And now that it’s coming back — as a for-profit company, not a charity — is it really the best vehicle for teaching literacy to “millions of children”?
While the article is worth examining, especially for those skeptical of Burton's plans or less than confident about the actual outcomes of fundraising campaigns, it remains interesting that anyone would feel it worthwhile to decry an effort to increase literacy amongst children, especially as U.S. students in particular are lapped by the academic achievements of students elsewhere in the world. Attempts to legitimize those complaints by couching them in an argument against the tax status of the organization leading the charge, could prove even more questionable. The WaPo article also raises questions about the efficacy of the proposed relaunch given the lack of access to technology amongst children in lower income families, which is a valid and very pressing issue for the people behind the campaign. LeVar Burton, though he does not offer a cure-all of any kind, does address the issue on the campaign's Kickstarter page:
When Reading Rainbow began in 1983, we were using television to bring books to kids, meeting them where they wanted to be. In 2014, TV is not that place anymore. Now, we’re trying to reach a new generation of digital natives.
That’s why, two years ago, I launched the Reading Rainbow App for tablets. Building on the basics of the television series, we put hundreds of quality books – and educational video field trips – right in a child’s hands.
But despite this progress, there are big challenges left to face.
First, not all families have access to tablets. Our goal is to cultivate a love of reading in all children, not just those that have tablets. To reach kids everywhere, we need to be everywhere: we need to be on the web.
Second, a resounding number of teachers have told me that they want Reading Rainbow in their classrooms, where they know it can make a difference. We will provide it, along with the tools that teachers need, including teacher guides, leveling, and dashboards. And in disadvantaged classrooms, we'll provide it for free.
Together, we can overcome these challenges.
The philosophy, much like the funding goal, of the Bring Reading Rainbow Back For Every Child, Everywhere campaign, relies upon strength in numbers. It requires a participatory effort. The ongoing fight to provide children across the world with the tools to receive an adequate education relies upon the same kind of community engagement and sweat equity. While it would be wonderful to be able to ensure tablets for children everywhere to consume the content or better yet, to see Reading Rainbow make a triumphant return to television, the platform matters a lot less in the end than the actual gift of literacy and the active practice of reading.
If all of the money being thrown at the campaign can, in the end, help to make a sizable improvement in flagging literacy rates by providing a quality supplement to the education children receive at school and in the home, then every donation - large or small - will have been worth it...but you don't have to take my word for it. Check out the footage below to watch the campaign video. Learn more about the Bring Reading Rainbow Back For Every Child, Everywhere campaign and donate via Kickstarter. Stay tuned for more.