Elementary aged students rediscovered their love of reading when the Harry Potter series graced bookstore shelves in 1997. An epic tale of magic, injustice and a young hero, it’s no wonder that children (and many adults) love the Harry Potter series. Is it appropriate, however, for the elementary school classroom? There are arguments on both sides of the discussion.
Opposition to Harry Potter books
The largest force of opposition comes from parents and religious leaders who feel the books promote magic and deception, putting young morals and souls at risk. Opponents have used alternate assignments, book sign out procedures and even book burnings to voice their views. Opponents to the Harry Potter series claim that the books erode morality. While this is a personal issue, it does create problems for teachers increasing the need for extra assignments and procedures, more parent-teacher meetings and a greater potential for administrative conflict.
Benefits of Harry Potter books
There are many reasons for using the Harry Potter series in an elementary school classroom. Primarily, students love these books. Unlike many school issued readers, which students find boring and irrelevant, the Harry Potter series sparks an interest in reading that goes beyond the specific book, increasing the likelihood of other books being read and with greater skill. Student interest provides a motive force that can be used to move them through a wide variety of language arts, science, and other subjects while maintaining enthusiasm. Other benefits of using the Harry Potter series in the elementary classroom include:
Vocabulary development – These books are not easy reading and yet students continue to immerse themselves in J.K. Rowling’s masterfully written tale. The vocabulary found in the Harry Potter series is complex and requires effort to understand.
Social studies – The issues are not a watered down version of some distant past. In spite of these challenges, or maybe because of them, the Potter books provide a point of connection for many young readers who feel lost in a maelstrom of broken families, local violence and global “mysteries” that don’t quite make sense.
Science – Using the Harry Potter theme, an Herbology lesson plan can be used to teach students about a 43,000 year old tree or skunk cabbage. Transformation can become a science experiment with bones and vinegar. The issue of factual and fictional can also be addressed, stressing the scientific method of analysis.
If there is no other reason for using the Harry Potter series in the elementary classroom, learning to read well and to enjoy it makes this a worthy theme. The importance of learning to read with skill and enjoyment cannot be overstated. Students who are skilled readers demonstrate academic success in other subjects and later in life. According to the American Association of School Librarians, “…literacy is associated with school achievement, participation in a democracy, and self-fulfillment…”
Finally, there is the social factor to consider. If Harry Potter books are banned or ignored, students will want to know why. If the books are allowed to some and forbidden to others, it can lead to ostracism and bullying on the playground. By acknowledging and directing student interest in the Harry Potter series, teachers can take advantage of student enthusiasm to carry them through more challenging assignments, critical thinking problems and difficult social interactions.