'Reading Rainbow' Breaks Kickstarter Record

by L. Turner

It's kind of refreshing to see a campaign for more literacy break records online. On Wednesday, a Reading Rainbow Kickstarter broke the record for most donors ever to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign on the site, raising more than $5.4 million thanks to 105,857 backers. Reading Rainbow, as you probably recall, was a long-running PBS TV program with a simple mission: Encouraging kids to read.

The show ended in 2006, though an educational Reading Rainbow app was released in 2012 and has been widely downloaded since then. (Seriously, people love this reading stuff — or at least the nostalgia of this Reading Rainbow stuff.) The campaign is being run by the well-known actor LeVar Burton, who's hosted the show since its inception. (He's also known for his roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Roots miniseries.) Burton's campaign first set a goal of $1 million to bring the show online. When that amount was raised in less than a day, Burton decided to expand the Kickstarter's goals, which means the project will include an Android app and other optimized technology and free subscriptions for more than 7,500 classrooms.

The campaign was helped along by none other than Seth MacFarlane, who pledged to match $1 million for every dollar over $4 million that the project grew. MacFarlane's donation will bring the total raised in the project to nearly $6.5 million.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

As Burton points out in the Kickstarter campaign's video, 1 in 4 kids can't read or understand this sentence:

At breakfast, Susan felt uneasy as she ate her meal. Her father noticed that she was deep in thought. "What's wrong?" her father asked.

LeVar suggests his campaign is targeted at that 25 percent.

He's been criticized by some commentators who've pointed out that the show was canceled because it wasn't seen as the best way to get kids to understand how to read. Caitlin Dewey at The Washington Post 's Intercept blog wrote that the literacy problem is no longer about getting kids interested in reading, but rather getting them to read at all. Plus, she noted that LeVar's campaign was intended to jumpstart and expand a for-profit company, not a show on a non-profit network.

Mark Wolfe, the company's CEO, told The New Yorker that the company's for-profit status wasn't relevant to the campaign or the project's mission.

It takes money to create things. And that’s perfectly fine. ... It was never our mission to teach kids how to read. Our mission is to help kids get comfortable with reading. We want to make reading a successful experience for them.

Image: Reading Rainbow/Kickstarter