The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling have both been a source of enjoyment and of debate in the United States. The majority of those who are against the popular books oppose them due to the witchcraft in them, saying that it encourages the children who read them to become Wicca’s. Perhaps the well known of those who oppose Harry Potter is Laura Mallory from Loganville, Georgia, who began her battle in 2005 to have the books removed from her children’s school library. The case was rejected by the school and she has lost her appeals both to the school board and to the Georgia State Board of Education. After losing her appeal to the Gwinnett Superior Court in March, 2007, she has started considering taking her case to federal court.
However, one elementary school teacher in Rialto, California, takes quite a different view of whether the Harry Potter books should be allowed in schools. Not only is she a fan herself of the books, but she integrates the books’ characters into her classroom activities. Since I am a friend of hers, I recently had the opportunity to sit down and interview her about her teaching methods.
It all began in the 1999-2000 school year. Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) had become a daily requirement for the classrooms, and everyone participated – students and teacher alike. Having heard about the Harry Potter books and wanting to see what they were all about, Lisa brought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in to read during SSR time. It wasn’t long before the students began to ask her what she was reading, since she enjoyed it so much. She began reading the book to them, and when she was finished the class was hooked. But, due to the fact that there was no more instructional time that could be devoted to Harry Potter, she told her students that they would need to read the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, on their own.
One of the most extraordinary things that she has seen happen occured during that first year. One young boy in her third grade classroom that year was reading at a mid kindergarten level when the year began, and he gained four years in his tested reading level that year just to read Chamber of Secrets. This boy became her first ‘Harry.’
“He was my first Harry – don’t tell ME Harry Potter isn’t magical,” she said as she smiled broadly.
When I asked how it was decided what students became which characters, she admitted that she had very little say in the matter. Unless there was a tie in picking what student became which Harry Potter character, the students are the ones that nominate who becomes which character. When she first began reading to the class, the students noticed that the boy who had learned to read so quickly and his best friend were exactly like Harry and Ron in the books. ‘Harry’ had black hair, glasses, and a scar on his head, as well as living with relatives besides his parents. ‘Ron’ was a red haired, freckled, blue eyed boy with a killer sense of humor. So her class began calling them Harry and Ron. It wasn’t long before they decided they wanted Harry Potter names as well, and began figuring out who was most like which character.
Over the years, all four houses(Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin) have been represented, but due to an unfortunate incident between ‘Draco Malfoy’ and ‘Ron’ one year, Slytherin is no longer part of the program. But the same ‘Ron’ who ended up in the principal’s office thanks to the problem with ‘Draco’ later stood up to a fifth grader in the boy’s bathroom, helping to protect a first grader. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Lisa, being an avid Ron and Hermione fan, finds the interaction between her ‘Rons’ and ‘Hermiones’ quite amusing. One of her most favorite memories, and one I remember her telling me about last year, was ‘Hermione’ coming back after being out sick for several weeks. The math teams had already been chosen, but ‘Hermione’ had been absent. It was initially decided that ‘Hermione’ should be on the team that needed her help the most, but the kids voted that she should pick what team she wanted to be on. Before she could decide for herself, ‘Ron’ went running across the class, got down on his knees in front of her desk, and, with his big puppy dog eyes asked her to be on his team. It was no contest.
Lisa smiles as she remembers the student in front of her saying, “It looks like he’s asking her to marry him!”
Sometimes Lisa herself takes on a Harry Potter persona, and it was her first ‘Harry’ and ‘Ron’ who made her ‘Professor McGonagall’, because she kept making the toys that they shouldn’t have at school ‘disappear’.
So far, she has not encountered any opposition from any teachers, and the few parents who have ever said anything have been loaned the books and have been encouraged “…to read until they’re uncomfortable with something that happens in the book and then let me know where it is and if they still object.” So far there haven’t been any objections, and one parent even finished the first book and asked to borrow the second one. She keeps both English and Spanish copies of the first two books at school just for this purpose.
Lisa admits that she doesn’t encourage reading of the Harry Potter books any stronger than she encourages reading of any other books, but she did say this, “But on the other hand, if a student wants to read a certain book – and the other option is that he may not read at all? I’ll be darned if I’m turning him down. All of those kids who’ve become interested in reading due to HP have moved on to other books – and any reading at all only improves their skills both for pleasure reading and academic reading.”
In conclusion, I personally think that it’s amazing the magic that J.K. Rowling has created, not only with spoken spells and wands, but to instill the love of reading in a child who can carry it with him or her for a lifetime. Now, that is magic!