Saturday, January 11, 2014

Gasp! My Kids Hate Star Wars

(Hanging at Harvard and strolling Harvard Square)

I have no recollection of Harry Potter dropping.  The publication of that book was as insignificant as patches on the elbows of my corduroy jacket.  In 1997 I was deep into long time literary affairs with Huck and Molly, Piggy and Lenny Small, Holden and Hester Prynne.   I wouldn’t have known the difference between a Muggle or a Voldemort if it leapt up and smacked me with a Quidditch stick.  
(Looks just like a regular school, doesn't it?)

Slowly but surely, Potterwords started creeping into my classroom.  Wands and Wizards, Hogwarts and Azkaban, and bright eyed students comparing every analogy, every literary device, every possible question I could ask them, to the impervious Draco Malfoy and impeccable Hermione Granger.  Harry Potter became a kid obsession.
(Our old friend Matt Clemons is the Director of Admissions for the Harvard Kennedy School)

It was the only book they would read, the only book that every kid knew or wanted to know.  Try pushing Sophocles or Ibsen during the early post millennium and kids faces would scrunch up, “Can’t we read Chamber of Secrets?  What about Goblet of Fire?”  It became a daily struggle in class, do I take Harry Potter away from the students and force them to read Plato’s Republic or give up entirely?
(Matt was kind enough to take us around the campus and show us some of the school's hidden secrets)

One of the breaking points for me as a teacher during this time was a student named Amanda.   I had just returned to America from teaching overseas and was working a summer camp leading young middle schoolers up and down Oregon trails and this young girl, a soft spoken, book worm, was deeply lost in a dictionary of Harry Potter spells.  I couldn’t get her to put the book down.  Not to admire Multnomah Falls, not to ponder the destruction of Spirit Lake, she even carried the thick thousand page tome with her through the Mt. St. Helens Ape Caves in the dark.  Then one day we were hiking up to Smith Rock, her nose planted firmly in the book , when she stumbled in the gravel and almost fell down a three hundred foot ravine.  I freaked.  With her hands cut and knees bleeding, I carried her off the mountain on my back and vowed to hate that book forever.
(One of which was to visit the school's library and see an actual Gutenberg Bible.  I've seen two in my lifetime)

I banned the Potter from class.  I mocked it every chance I got.  I began to realize that as a teacher I had a responsibility to show students that other books DID IN FACT exist outside the magical world of J.K. Rowling.  It became a subversive war.  Students just didn’t understand.  They’d grown up with this young boy, suffered alongside him, counted him not as a literary figure, but as a beloved friend.  I just didn’t care.  What about Jason and Medea, Dante and Virgil, Don Quixote and the Wife of Bath?   Who cares… what students really wanted to discuss was the literary evidence proving Dumbledore was gay.
(Harvard is full of funny little stores like Leavitt & Peirce and the Curious George Book Shop)

Of course, all students eventually pass through.  They enter and graduate, and new seeds come to crop.  Ginger haired Ron Weasley was replaced by Queen Bee Blair Waldorf and all I heard for two years was Gossip Girl this and Gossip Girl that.  
(And funny good fortune traditions like rubbing the golden foot of John Harvard himself)

Then came the aubade affair of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, which eventually dimmed in favor of stout Katniss Everdeen who I am now currently entrenched (stuck) with (usurped only by waves of Percy Jackson and quips of Tony Stark, who may or may not be the death knell of literature).  This particular saga played out twofold this week while giving final semester exams and almost every student I tested referenced Harry Potter in their definition of what literature was and what was its significance to the world.  Again, with that damn Potter.  That book, The Hunger Games, and Twilight, are often the only narratives kids know.
(Careful... you don't know where that foot has been!)

Humorously, this past weekend, outside of school I attempted yet again to enjoy Star Wars with my daughters.  They still want nothing of it.  The defining story of my young life has an almost palpable effect on my girls.  They loathe it, complaining Luke Skywalker is a bore and that space ships are unrealistic.  Their reaction every time I bring it up is, “Star Wars… Dad, again?”  So what can I do?

(It was a great day in Harvard, thanks to Matt for graciously showing us around and helping me show my daughters yet another amazing way of living)

The truth is, I secretly bought the entire set of Harry Potter books about a year ago, downloaded the audio files and films… I’m ready.  I know some day soon I will sit down and begin reading them with my girls.  We will supplement, of course, C.S. Lewis and E.B. White, Anne of Green Gables, Mary Lennox of the Secret Garden, the March Sisters of Little Women.  I’m no rookie at this, I have a plan.  Still…I feel I’ve lost something.  Maybe not, maybe I’ve gained the world and just don’t know it yet.

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