Harry Potter Series Ideal for Classroom

These days, many English classes center on a groan-worthy litany of texts that seem to bear little relevance to life in the 21st century: Shakespeare (to whom all too many English teachers are positively married), this-and-that Greek tragedy, a possibly interesting but difficult-to-read classic like Pride and Prejudice and a gloomy, absurd existentialist novel thrown in for good measure.

There is a cure for this monotony, though: the world-famous Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. It admittedly seems like a rather strange choice for an English class text, but in reality, these seven books that have introduced magic into many a childhood hold just as much instructive power, if not more, than good old Tom Sawyer and Hamlet.

What’s not to love about teaching the Harry Potter series in MCPS English classes? The books are incredibly popular; according to Forbes Magazine, J.K. Rowling is the world’s first billionaire author. It is a practical addition to the curriculum, tooa��there are seven books, so students can read one per year starting in sixth grade and ending in their senior year.

English teacher Sharon Lee said, “Harry Potter has many of the themes that we see in works of literary merit. It is a coming of age story, a quest, good vs. evil, and deals with the importance of friendship, the importance of believing in yourself, and fate vs. free will.” Lee taught the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, in her Fantasy Literature class, which was taught as an elective at RHS in the spring semesters of 2013 and 2014.

English teachers also love historical fiction books and allegories for past events and time periods. The Harry Potter series fits this category perfectly well. It subtly incorporates several parallels to the World War II era and the Holocaust, which would make excellent material for analysis, writing and creative projects.

This is not to mention that the bigotry and discrimination perpetrated against Muggles (non-magical people) and Muggle-born wizards throughout the series could help drill into students’ heads the idea that they should never stand for intolerance in their community and the world.

This raises an important question: why, when it comes to choosing texts for English classes, do contemporary works of genius like Harry Potter often become eclipsed in the overlarge shadow of Shakespeare and the Greek classics?

“Money is a huge part of the issuea��and the 21st century is not that old yet. It takes time to know which books to invest in. Teachers love the books we teach AND bringing in a new text means losing one we love,” English teacher Anne Ehlers said.

Harry Potter should be a quick and easy choice, though. Admittedly, it can be argued that the reading level is below the bar for some high school students, but at least for middle school English classes, there is really no excuse.

The series has clearly engaged millions of young people around the globe and dramatically impacted their lives. From the famous Harry Potter himself to his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger to the misunderstood Professor Snape, readers of the series are sure to find a character they can relate to. How many teenagers do we hear say things along the lines of “I identify with Medea on a spiritual level”?

Senior Jonathan Garcia did not completely learn the English language until he was in the fourth or fifth grade, and recalls that reading the Harry Potter series significantly contributed to his progress. “Be[ing] able to immerse myself in this magical world, is what ultimately gave me motivation to learn how to read in English when I was in elementary school,” he said.

Case in point, Harry Potter seems to be a perfectly logical and beneficial choice for MCPS middle school (and possibly high school) English classes. Why are we wasting our time on old classics that just go in one ear and out the other when we could stand to gain so much more from packing our trunks for a (sadly imaginary) trip to Hogwarts?