Five Reasons Why “Harry Potter” Is the Best Thing to Happen to Teaching Since Shakespeare
Move over, Gatsby: There’s a new piece of quintessential educational literature in town.
While the classics will always have their place on the bookshelf of any English classroom, there’s no denying the awesome educative power of the Harry Potter series. Even today, almost two decades after the first Potter book was released, Harry Potter is being used in instrumental ways in classrooms the world over.
Recently, the Jerusalem Post reported that educators from the Polis Institute in Jerusalem are using Harry Potter books to help students who were struggling to learn Hebrew and Arabic. On figuring out how best to help students discern their complex vocabularies, administrative director Etti Calderon simply said,
Harry Potter immediately came to mind.
One must take a moment to admire the scope of the Potter series — the transformation from an idea on a train in England to a key educative tool for Hebrew students is staggering, to say the least. And it is precisely because of the way that Potter is able to reach everybody, old or young, from any corner of the globe, that makes it such an excellent teacher.
With that said, we broke down the top five reasons behind the educational prowess of Harry Potter.
1. It’s translated into almost every language.
When determining how to best help their students, educators at the Polis Institute in Jerusalem considered the following question:
I thought, ‘which book is written in every language besides the Bible?’
Indeed, while no books have been quite as thoroughly translated as the Bible, Harry Potter is certainly up there with a whopping 73 languages. This makes Potter valuable not only to the English-speaking world, but also to many other countries in the way of teaching language and literature. But most significantly, it helps bridge language barriers and cultural distinctions by creating a unity like few other works of fiction have before. In today’s day and age, the values of education are just as much about reading as they are about understanding the connections of a rapidly globalizing world.
While there are a still a few more non-religious books that beat Potter to the punch in terms of being second place to the Bible, there are still no books that have an effect quite like Harry Potter that are so widely available.
2. It’s interesting while still being substantive.
Reading dense and heavy — though no doubt important — works like Ulysses or Heart of Darkness, to many students who aren’t fond of classic literature, is a chore. Often, teachers and students alike accept the mutually exclusive dichotomy that there are “fun” books, and then there are “meaningful” books. Perhaps this was even correct at some point, but at least since the advent of Harry Potter, it no longer holds true.
One of the best things about Harry Potter as an educational tool is that it’s not nearly as vapid as many of its detractors make it out to be, nor as bereft of deeper meaning as many of its young-adult literary counterparts. Indeed, critical analyses of Potter have unearthed as many a symbol, motif, and even biblical allegory as any work of literature we were forced to read in high school.
In the end, no one can argue that Harry Potter’s core strength has always been its mass appeal. But mass appeal does not necessarily cancel out its many literary merits.
3. Schools can learn from Hogwarts.
Even though Potter is a story about a fictional British boarding school, it has touched a great many aspects of student life and education in the real world. The question is, are real-life educators able to learn from the educative models that Hogwarts School presents?
Some think so: The Huffington Post wrote on how Hogwarts created the ideal learning community for students by supporting mentorship and community, applied and experiential learning, and much more. There have even been academic pieces written on how Hogwarts’s system can teach us a thing or two about education, such as Jodi Levine and Nancy Shapiro’s “Hogwarts: The Learning Community.”
Obviously, there is much more discussion to be had; for example, do Houses foster competition or rivalry, or create supportive communities for students to develop their unique talents? Regardless, the real-life applications of the Hogwarts system are significant and varied enough to merit further consideration.
4. It reflects an important shift in educational values.
In the days of the Internet, the core values of education are shifting: When vast swaths of information about every subject are available at the click of a button, the educational world is scrambling to find its footing in the information age.
Naturally, we all know that education doesn’t simply involve the mere learning of information; schools provide an important foundation for personal and human development, especially for younger students. This is becoming increasingly important as the bulk of information transfer moves out of the classroom and onto the web. Again, Harry Potter can act as a supremely effective channel for this value shift; the Potter books are rife with educational and moral principles that can easily connect with students and help them grow not only as learners but also as people.
In this way, personal development, education, and Potter can go hand in hand in a changing educational landscape – because, as we all learned from Harry Potter, there are some things that are just more important than books and cleverness.
5. It connects people (and connects with people).
The driving factor behind all of the reasons why Harry Potter belongs in our curricula is simple: People connect with Potter in ways nearly unprecedented by any other literary work. Students, teachers, parents, and everyone else involved in the educative process are all able to find some magic within the pages of Potter.
Some students bemoan classic literature in classrooms because they can’t see themselves within it: To them, Jay Gatsby can easily become an unfathomable man with a lot of shirts, Hamlet an incomprehensible prince who perhaps needs therapy, and the list goes on. But Harry Potter is something that they can relate to, and furthermore, unlike any other book series of its kind, students can connect with their parents and teachers with Potter as a result of its age-transcending, timeless appeal.
Ultimately, from Jerusalem to Jakarta to the Jersey Shore and everywhere else in between, Harry Potter has cast its spell across the world – and its ability to connect people within classrooms and across countries gives it immense power as a tool for teaching.
Do you think we need more Potter in our classrooms, or do you think we should keep the classics at the forefront of the curriculum? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!