Harry Potter bewitches NIU

By Sara Adams

When Matt Birchler bought his textbooks at the beginning of the semester, he was surprised when he found his English books were from the Harry Potter series.

“I had never read any of the books or seen the movies before this class,” Birchler, a freshman communications major, said. “If I knew the class was using Harry Potter as a text, I probably would not have taken the class, but having actually read one of the books now, I have to say they’re way better than I ever expected.”

Many students, like Birchler, walked into English 105 skeptical.

“I was never interested in Harry Potter before this class began. To me, Harry Potter was always a little kid type of entertainment,” Veronica Butts, a freshman public health administration major, said. “But it is actually interesting.”

Though some may question the books’ ability to challenge advanced English students, Angela Schult, a freshman elementary education major, said she believes they are working at a college level.

“Just because the books may be an easy read doesn’t mean that they cannot benefit us,” she said. “We were told at the beginning of the semester that reading anything makes us better writers, whether it’s Shakespeare or a copy of the Enquirer.”

However, not all students think the books are college material.

“I feel that Harry Potter is a children’s book and should stay a children’s book,” said Sheila Vance, a freshman political science and Spanish double-major. “I was reading more advanced stuff freshman year in high school.”

The class’ teacher, Karley Adney, believes focusing on these books is useful because it exposes students to popular fiction, which is a type of writing that they may or many not have had the chance to read in a classroom setting.

“It is valuable that students are exposed to all genres of writing because then they are able to make their own educated decisions about what constitutes good writing,” Adney said.

Adney chose the Harry Potter books because the series is packed with themes and issues she says we can all relate to. “There is classicism and racism, and other issues like loss, rejection, popularity, family and acceptance – all of which are issues that we have dealt with and still do deal with on a daily basis,” Adney said.

The class syllabus includes a reading log, an argumentative paper and summarizing exercises, Adney said. She teaches two sections of the class, and all books used are either from the series itself or deal with analyzing the Harry Potter books.

Although the course has many educational goals, some students are looking forward to more than just grammar and writing.

“I should say I want to become a better writer [in the class], but really, right now I just want to see what happens next in the Harry Potter story,” Birchler said.