Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Walking Satan's Path

I love the Harry Potter books. I have no problem in confessing that I am a total nerd, but that shouldn’t be a defense in loving those stories. They are perhaps the most imaginative stories written in my lifetime if not of all time. To not had read the Harry Potter books: well that would be like never seeing a sunrise or the ocean. You’re missing out on one of the greatest things in life: the power of imagination.

When the last book came out, I bought it at midnight and stayed up until sunrise reading. I fell asleep for a couple hours and had nightmares of Voldemort. I texted my best friend my worries and fears as of course she was reading it that night too. I woke up and did nothing else that day until I finished the book. I can only dream of writing something someday that has such power and inspiration.

During my first year of teaching, I had one of my most challenging and rewarding classes. I was assigned a reading class of ten of the lowest level readers in the freshman class. My job was to improve their reading scores. When I reflected on how to do that, the first and most important task, I thought, was to help them learn to love reading. Students have low reading scores because they don’t read. And those who don’t read don’t like reading. Simple, right?

So I thought of the one book that could help them love reading: the first Harry Potter. For nine of the students, I think it was a roaring success. They aced my tests, and they loved the story.

But when the book was assigned, one student’s parents visited me after school, and I will never forget what they told me.

They introduced themselves and then said, “Do you know you are walking in the path of Satan by reading this book? Do you know you are encouraging students to walk Satan’s path by having them read it?”

I laughed. This had to be some kind of joke, right? But they didn’t laugh back.

“A fiction story that plays with magic is akin to worshiping the devil,” they said.

“Have you read the book?” I asked.

“No,” they answered. Of course not, I thought.

“Well, if you had read the book, you would know that the magic is what we call fiction or make-believe. It is not real. Furthermore, the books deal with the themes that I think all students should be exposed to: friendship, good over evil, self-discipline in learning, overcoming fear, teamwork, bravery, love of family, love of learning, and so much more!” I told them.

They stared at me. I could see in their eyes that I must be the anti-Christ.

“We will not allow our child to read this book,” they said.

No wonder your kid has low level reading scores, I thought. You stifle the imagination.

Naturally, I had to provide an alternate book. Something boring and old and without magic.

I think of this story many times when I’m teaching today. I think creativity and imagination are the most important elements in the classroom. And a little magic and make-believe can do wonders for the imagination.

Sure, these parents are a minority, members of a specific religious sect that see the devil everywhere. He’s on the back of your cereal boxes and on the television and in your video games.

Evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I have a fantasy that this child snuck a copy of Harry Potter and hid it under her bed like a teenage boy would hide a copy of Playboy. I hope she read it late at night, under the covers with a flashlight while her parents slept and dreamed of devils. Wouldn’t that be a nice ending to the story?

I can’t imagine any writer not reading and re-reading the Harry Potter stories over and over. Imagination is the soul of life and the seed of creativity. If that’s walking on Satan’s path, then let me hold his hand because it’s a wonderful journey not to be missed.

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