“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 30: “Harry Potter Voices Across Borders”

Harry Potter empowers us to speak across borders of difference and find our authentic voices.



In this month’s episode, Katy and Emily talk with Dr. M’Balia Thomas (University of Kansas) about the border-crossings of students like Harry and Hermione, which M’Balia calls the “Harry Potter Border-Crossing Analogy” (HPBCA). Wizarding world characters’ experiences of going into a different world, with a different language and social system, can help us develop empathy for real-world border-crossers, particularly including second-language learners in the classroom environment. M’Balia talks about how she has used the HPBCA to train students to teach English as a second language. By understanding the different border-crossing strategies of Harry and Hermione, future teachers gain a sense of what second-language learners might feel and the diversity of such students’ responses to being in a new educational environment. Why are Snape, Lupin, and Hagrid the teachers they are? Looking at the influences on the Hogwarts teachers helps education students self-reflect on their own life experiences and find paths to their own authentic identity and empowerment.

M’Balia also talks personally about how the Harry Potter novels have helped her find her authentic voice as a woman of color in academia and as a southerner teaching in the Midwest. She talks about using textual critical partners to engage with Harry Potter, which has allowed her to voice her own experiences as a minority in the profession. She talks about the power of fan fiction to bring people of color more centrally into the Harry Potter world and how it helped her, as she has experienced being a person of color in majority-white spaces. M’Balia has written about “demented academia,” the way that the Ivory Tower can produce trauma akin to being surrounded by joy-sucking Dementors. She hopes that her voice can speak to others who have experienced the alienation of academic life and that she can then extend a hand across that border to help others who are struggling.

Rafael Carneiro (Federal University of Uberlândia, Brazil) and Amy Quirin (University of Kansas) also join us to discuss research all three scholars are producing on Albus Dumbledore’s pedagogy. Is Dumbledore a good teacher? M’Balia, Rafael, and Amy are studying his teaching methodology through digital textual analysis of the language he uses when he instructs other characters. A pragmatic and linguistic approach to Dumbledore’s speech reveals his theory of knowledge and produces a nuanced view of Dumbledore as a teacher who sometimes knows and yet sometimes only suspects, showing his internal ethical struggle as a teacher in uncertain, dangerous times. A willingness to admit when he does not know is the mark of Dumbledore’s strength as a teacher; thus he is a good model for all those who teach. Amy, Rafael, and M’Balia conclude with advice for Harry Potter scholars today: Go forth!

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.