Tuesday, January 14, 2014

There have been many times in teaching that I have used Harry Potter as an example or a metaphor for one thing or another. 

I am certainly not alone. Some universities have even structured whole courses around the Harry Potter series. For example, Oregon State offered "Finding Your Patronus," and Yale held "Christian Theology and Harry Potter." 

I have used HP in reference to Moses as an abandoned hero.  
I also have used it to explain the Christus Victor model of atonement, particularly noting the inscription on the Potters' tombstone, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," and the emphasis on Lily Potter's self-sacrifice to save Harry, which allowed him to survive death itself.  

This gives me the opportunity to draw on their shared knowledge of the story.  However, as time passes, my students are becoming increasingly less familiar or interested in the series.  Although the series is very well-known, it is mostly through the movies rather than the books, and even the movies are less popular than before.  

My students, who are 18 or 19 years old, were only toddlers when Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone was released. It is simply not the story of their generation. This is unfortunate, since it was always an easy way for me to connect with my students.  

My colleagues have also noticed that the HP references are no longer as effective as they once were.  One colleague said that only two students in one of her classes seemed to know the story well.  Another said an in-class activity using HP went so badly that it was comical. 

I find that a similar thing has happened with references to 9/11; for example, I always used 9/11 to describe a national crisis such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Being born in the mid-90's, they are just too young to identify with the event.  

I would appreciate some feedback or suggestions in the comments section on this.   Are you finding your go-to pop-culture references are falling flat because the students are less and less familiar? What new references are working? 

Isaac M. Alderman
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