Nitpicking Issues- Reading Rainbow

I’ve been reading articles about a lot of different issues lately- feminism, sexism, discrimination, recent shootings, whether or not sports teams should change their names- there are a lot of topics that a lot of people disagree about out there.

I’m not a super political person, so I can usually see both sides of an argument. I also can (and do) point out flaws I find in arguments. And though I usually stay out of comment threads, because, trolls, lately I’ve been forming a lot of opinions that I feel comfortable sharing. Some of these are on the issues; but more often they are on the execution of the argument.

Pointy headed Nit Pickers

Today, I saw the video for Levar Burton’s kickstarter for the “reboot” of reading rainbow. I loved reading rainbow as a kid, and I think that the overall idea of the campaign is cool (because who would argue with getting more kids excited about reading?). But I have a few issues with the execution. My first reaction was pretty early in the video, when Burton talks of reaching every child, everywhere. While that’s a lovely goal, I don’t feel like it’s being touted as some overarching desire, I think it is being presented as “this program WILL be accessible to everyone.”

The program is digital. Only those with access to computers, tablets, phones, and other mobile devices will have access to it. Since it is targetting schools as well as individual families, the issue of certain people not being able to afford these devices isn’t the biggest deal, as the whole idea is to provide the program free for schools that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it (but does this include the technology needed to use/display the app? I don’t know).

My big problem is the assumption that the technology they’re talking about is available everywhere. In the video, kids are drawing on a picture of a globe, giving me the impression that everywhere means worldwide. The internet isn’t available worldwide, especially at the speed and reliability required for this program to be useful.

Upon further inspection of the statistics presented in the Kickstarter campaign, it looks like they’re focusing on the United States. Ok, then DON’T SAY “EVERYWHERE”! Also, there are places in the United States that don’t get wireless internet reliably, which is what it seems is required for the program to be most useful.

Is my main issue with the way this campaign is presented mostly a wording thing? Absolutely. If you technically aren’t able to reach everyone, everywhere, then don’t say that that is what you will be doing.

But the issue goes further than technicality. I love the idea of crowdfunding, and I realize that Kickstarter is not just for charities. That is why so many details are required about what the money will be used for – so people know exactly what they are funding.

I should say “usually” required. I don’t see any breakdown of costs on this Kickstarter. Being that this is spear-headed by a for-profit company, I’m not loving the lack of transparency. What exactly is over one million dollars needed for? Development? Servers? Implementing it in schools seem to have something to do with it, since the stretch goals include providing the app to a larger number of schools than the initial goal. But what does this implementation entail, and what exact line items would be on a receipt? I’d  also like to know more about what types of books will be offered,(is it just stuff that’s on the free domain and already available on a billion websites?) how the program actually works, and how much profit the company that makes this app is getting. I have to wonder if Kickstarter would have accepted a campaign with the exact same amount (or lack)of  specific detail if it didn’t have a substantial celebrity backing.

I have no problem with a for-profit company providing an app for schools to provide better learning materials, even if they make some profit off those efforts. But only if the program is effective, and only if they don’t make it happen by tricking people into giving them money. The Reading Rainbow app kind of reminds me of Accelerated Reader, which infiltrated classrooms nationwide, became practically required for schools to have, and then charged the schools higher and higher fees in order to maintain itself. All with little proof that it was actually helpful to students.

The program aside, there are a few things about this ad (honestly, that’s what it is) that strike me as dishonest (or at least utilizing advertising trickery) :

1. Using “every children, everywhere” when it’s not even their goal to spread worldwide (at least, this isn’t expressed. All they talk about in the campaign and in the few articles I read about it were U.S.-centric). Also, I’m totally down for embracing technology to help kids learn in the medium they’re most comfortable with, but if you’re *only* available digitally, you can’t claim to be available for everyone.

2. That globe really did seem sly to me. Look, kids are drawing on a globe to show how this connects people worldwide… even though it doesn’t.

3. Banking most of the appeal on the beloved celebrity status of Levar Burton (who I still love, just saying)

4. Getting “Butterfly in the sky” stuck in everyone’s head so they’ll give money out of nostalgia (which is actually really smart)

So in short, I think this campaign is misguided and deceptive. I’m not saying it’s not a good cause, but if I were to personally support it, I’d want a lot more information than provided. As it is, it seems too profit-driven to be a Kickstarter campaign I’d want to back. Like I said, for-profit companies have every right to utilize crowdfunding, but they need to be honest about it and accept the fact that a lot of people are more likely to support non-profits and startups rather than established businesses. After all, why would you donate to a good cause just so the people running the fundraiser can get richer? There are probably more effective ways to help kids get the education they need. And speaking of things kids need, would an app like this even reach those most likely to need it? Or is it more likely to help kids who already have some literacy resources get more? Which is great, but it still leaves out those who attend schools that can’t afford technology, can’t afford books, can’t even afford buildings that meet code? Who is raising millions of dollars to help them?

What do you think about the Reading Rainbow App and the kickstarter to fund it? Am I being too nitpicky? Is there another issue that I missed completely?

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Posted on May 30, 2014, in Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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