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A student in my “Mythology and the Movies” class just sent me a link to an editorial in the New York Times about how Ivy League (and other) colleagues are using Harry Potter themes to attract students during recruiting. In one of the reply letters, the Harry Potter event that my class puts on is mentioned.

See the editorial at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/opinion/06edelson.html?scp=1&sq=taking%20the%20magic%20out%20of%20college&st=cse

See the responses at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/opinion/l12potter.html?_r=2

The student in the New York Times editorial who complained  about beings exposed to these recruiting methods was appalled by all things Harry Potter. She felt they should have been left behind, in high school. I, of course, am delighted with the examples she described of references being made to Harry Potter at several colleges she and friends visited. First she supplied me with a lot of good information that I will use as I write about Harry Potter and its incorporation into everyday American culture. Then she confirmed that Middlebury still promotes Quidditch: my son (a high school freshman) wants to go there not only because it is a wonderful college but also because it has Quidditch!

The distressing part is that this student is about to go off to college and already has her mind closed to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world. Talk about failure to see the magic in education! The fact is, we do not escape into Harry Potter’s world when we read and then leave it behind when we close the book. The elements of that world come with us. The wonder (hint: college is supposed to be about wonder, and yes, magic) is that the magical world does, indeed, come into ours, everyday, in the most amazing ways. And it is not just about merchandising, Merchandise is not an inherent evil. We use Harry Potter themed props for all sorts of purposes, most of which involved making sense of the world though imaginative stories we create and exchange.

I would suggest to this already jaded student that if she were to mention Harry Potter to a group of college students (like the ones I have in my classes) she would find that there is great variety in their experiences and opinions about the boy wizard. But the important thing is that she had a starting point for those conversations, a series of books that many of them have read and many fell in love with. It would be sad to cut off that potential connection to new and different people in the place that offers the best opportunity to explore it: Hogwarts, er, I mean, college.