All Posts Tagged With: "Harry Potter"
Students connect through Potter clubs and classes
Two summers ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 arrived at the cinema in Ancaster, Ont., Stephanie Kesler took the day off work and lined up for 12 hours to make sure she got a good seat. Afterward, Kesler, now 23, says she felt “a little bit sad.” Growing up she had eagerly anticipated each of J.K. Rowling’s books and films. “That was my whole childhood.”
But last semester, the third-year English student at Western University in London, Ont., realized that the end of the series didn’t mean saying goodbye. In her children’s literature course, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was on the syllabus.
For her class assignment, Kesler presented to her peers on the symbolism of Rowling’s Dementors, dark creatures that suck the life out of people, and the Patronus Charm, the only thing that can fight them off. She likened the Dementors to depression and the Patronas to overcoming it through positive thinking.
Not far away at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., dozens of wizarding fans had a similar idea. Emma Morrison, a third-year Medieval Studies and Religion major, had started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance, a global network of campus and community clubs where Potter fans jointly work for social justice. The Laurier chapter’s first big project focused on Dementors and depression. After a social media campaign promoting awareness of mental health services on campus, the group held a Yule Ball (a Hogwarts-inspired formal) during February mid-terms. “We wanted to have something fun to allow people to let loose in their time of stress,” she says. More than 220 showed up for butter beer and dancing.
Professor Gabrielle Ceraldi, who teaches children’s literature at Western, is unsurprised by the focus on the Dementors. “Emotional states in the series are always represented through magic,” she says. Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, is bewildering, much like university, she points out. “The staircases never stay in the same place from one period of class to the next.”
Ceraldi, who has only just heard about the Harry Potter Alliance, will soon teach what she believes is the first Canadian course fully dedicated to the books. She has also just learned about the Quidditch leagues where students use broomsticks and throw Quaffles, yet another of the ways today’s university students are connecting to each other and to school through Harry Potter.
Harry helps them connect to school by introducing academic themes. One obvious example is the classism Hermione Granger highlights with her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), a group she starts to fight for the underclass toiling in Hogwarts’ kitchens. Harry and Ron first turn up their noses at Hermione, “but, in the end,” Ceraldi says, “grasping the value of house elves becomes pivotal to the triumph of good over evil.”
Morrison, the Laurier student, suggests that the theme of classism was inspired by Rowling’s own life. “Before she published Harry Potter, [Rowling] was a single mom who didn’t have a lot of money and relied on the government for a lot of what she was able to provide her children,” she points out.
Racism is exemplified in the mudbloods, people who come from muggle (non-magic) families and end up being capable of magic. At one point in the series, the mudbloods are accused of stealing wands from true witches and wizards, which leads to (ironically) a witch hunt.
Classism and racism were both considered by the Laurier chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance this year when they learned about child labour on African cocoa plantations and then collected signatures on a petition demanding Warner Bros. use fair trade chocolate in all their Potter treats.
But the Laurier chapter isn’t just for humanitarian work. Morrison says it’s also a place “where fans can get together and nerd out.” One just-for-fun meeting offered tea leaf readings.
Ceraldi says the Potter books offer more than social justice lessons. In her upcoming course they will provide an entry to other genres of fiction, including Gothic, dystopian and detective. Students may be asked to compare one book to a Sherlock Holmes novel and another to a story by Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell who, long before Rowling, used a mirror to symbolize self-reflection.
Though it’s not until January, Ceraldi is getting many e-mails from students wanting to sign up. They’re keen, she says, writing things like, ‘I am the person I am today because of those books.’
That, she says, is unsurprising. “They know these stories have incredible power and meaning.”
What students are talking about today (April 15th)
1. It’s almost April 20th, the annual day when marijuana smokers gather, often on campuses, to smoke pot, throw Frisbees and in some cases protest cannabis laws. One such protest, Fill the Hill, happens on Parliament Hill in Ottawa each year. Kyle Walton, a second-year student from Carleton University, told The Fulcrum student newspaper that marijuana is particularly important this year following the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill, which toughened penalties for marijuana possession. Pot could become an election issue ahead of 2015. Justin Trudeau, who was elected leader of the Liberal Party on Sunday, favours decriminalization. The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair once said he believes legalization would be a mistake, “because the information that we have right now is that the marijuana that’s on the market is extremely potent and can actually cause mental illness.” He later clarified that he does not believe anyone should go to jail for possessing small amounts.
2. Speaking of marijuana, a student at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary told CBC News she plans to continue using marijuana during class despite the administration’s view that she’s committing academic misconduct. Lisa Kirkman has a medical marijuana license and uses a vapourizer once per hour, including during classes. She says she wants the school to provide a ventilated room.
What students are talking about today (February 8th)
1. The Gazette student newspaper at Western University published an editorial this week on a new Harry Potter course that will be offered this fall. They came to the conclusion that it will not be a bird course. “Some may say authors such as Shakespeare, Hemingway and Joyce provide the reader with a much deeper, denser text…. while Harry Potter’s journey through Hogwarts is just too simplistic.” But they added, “Who’s to say there is not deeper meaning in Harry Potter? With adult themes such as challenging authority, self-sacrifice, tolerance and genocide, these books following the Boy who Lived should not be pushed aside as ‘just for children.’” However, proving that many students still need to improve their basic reading skills, the paper faced a backlash from those who took the headline “Harry Potter and the Bird Course?” to mean “Harry Potter is a bird course.” Editor Gloria Dickie responded with a second editorial reiterating that the editorial board does not see it as a bird course.
Avicii, Beer4Breakfast, Bedpush, Trudeau & Ryan Gosling
1. Honouring the American tradition of free speech and big lawsuits, the University of California Davis has set aside $980,000 to settle with 21 students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed by campus police during an otherwise peaceful Occupy protest last November. Students will get $30,000 each; the plaintiffs’ attorneys will get $250,000.
2. An online reality show called Beer4Breakfast is looking for Canada’s best party city by visiting a number of campuses in southwestern Ontario, reports the Western Gazette. The show’s producers say they will supply a party host with a bartender, DJ and professional photographer and then grade it based on party tricks, popularity, originality, team morale and shock factor. What could possibly go wrong?
3. Skiers near Flagstaff, Arizona will soon be gliding atop fake snow made from 100 per cent sewage effluent. “It’s a disaster, culturally and environmentally,” Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity told the New York Times, adding that he worries about the impact on the alpine tundra and to humans should skiers fall into the treated sewer-water snow and ingest it.
Michelle Obama, Quebec election, Adderall & Harry Potter
1. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama gave a heartwarming speech at last night’s Democratic National Convention. She mentioned that she and her husband Barack struggled with college debt, contrasting them with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. She said her husband believes “success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
2. The Gateway student newspaper obtained documents that “revealed serious health and safety concerns” in Lister Residence at the University of Alberta, where alcohol was recently banned in common areas. Problems included “a Floor Coordinator and a student vomiting on each other, collecting it in a pitcher, and having a third student drink it.” Serious concerns indeed.
3. Another student paper, The Harvard Crimson, has done something less impressive: run online advertisements for ADDTabz, the “Adderall Alternative.” Adderall is a prescription-only stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder. It is sold illegally as a study aid. This advertising partnership seems rather unbecoming of an Ivy League school, much like last week’s cheating scandal.
Like Harry Potter 101, Superhero Science, Basket Weaving…
Last week, both crusty old curmudgeons and left-wing crusaders received an early holiday gift from Baylor University in Texas: an outrageously named course: Homosexuality as Gateway Drug.
Unsurprisingly, the local TV news played clips of offended students and the blogosphere went wild.
Piling on courses with offensive or trivial names has long been a pastime for those with plenty of time on their hands and not much sense of nuance. But the joke is old—and it needs to stop.
Case in point: Baylor later changed the official title of the offending course to something more generic. Meanwhile, it came out that the “course” in question was not a regular offering, but an independent study being pursued by a single student.