reading rainbow

LeVar Burton with kids on PBS' Reading Rainbow

Last Friday, PBS aired the last episode of Reading Rainbow, ending 26 years of programming designed to encourage a love for reading among children.  Reading Rainbow was the third longest-running children’s program in PBS history, trailing only Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  LeVar Burton, known for his acting roles as Kunta Kinte in Roots, and Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, served as the show’s host for its entire run.  Production ceased when no entity could be found (not even PBS) that would provide the several hundred thousand dollars necessary to renew the broadcast rights for the show.  Apparently, a philosophical shift had taken place among leaders in children’s educational programming who now desired that greater emphasis be given to teaching basic reading tools like phonics and spelling (the how of reading) rather than inspiring and encouraging children with why they should read.  I have to admit that I probably only saw a few episodes of the show when my children were young, but still I felt a sense of sadness that such a wholesome and successful show had to end, when outright garbage on commercial television seems to have no lack of funding at all.    

The debate about teaching how to read versus why to read got me thinking about the study habits of Christians and the approach to teaching that is normative in many churches through their Bible classes and small group ministries.  The higher-ups at PBS decided that they were assuming too much about their young viewing audience’s ability to read and shifted their focus toward teaching basic literacy.  Is it possible that churches have made similar false assumptions about Biblical literacy within their membership?  Many Christians read widely and voluminously among the genres of personal devotion, relationship enrichment, financial accountability and stewardship, character development, and even Christian fiction.  It is not unusual for these same subjects to be represented in (or even dominate) the “Bible” class offerings of churches.  But, how well are our church members progressing in their fundamental knowledge of Scripture which is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps. 119:105) and the Word of His Grace “which is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32)?  I know that this doesn’t have to be an “either/or” consideration, but, rather, is a “both/and” goal that can be achieved in a well-balanced fashion.  Still, I want to make sure that we do not substitute mere “supplements” for the “staples” of our spiritual diet.  So what do you think?  Do we need to tweak our programming?

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