(As a disclaimer: if you read Harry Potter and can keep your love to yourself – this post is not aimed so much at you as it is at those who pontificate the laurels of the series to any and all who’ll listen. And I promise that it’s not all gloating – there’s non-Aaron jerkness at the bottom of the post.)
Attention, all those that worship at the alter of Harry Potter.
Read and weep, as your justification for why these books are even remotely relevant as anything other than a disposable pop culture artifact – equivalent to the boy band craze of the nineties, or everyone’s obsession with grey denim in the eighties – is flushed away.
But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.
Ah, sweet justice. The reason I hear over and over and over again as to why these books are important to society is that “they teach children that reading is fun/important/cool.”
Harry Potter does jack shit to incite children to read. And now, I’ve got the New York Times backing me. Who’s on your side?
But let’s not stop there! Motoko Rich, my new favorite reporter, take it away!
…researchers and educators say that the series, in the end, has not permanently tempted children to put down their Game Boys and curl up with a book instead.
Mmm, more please!
What parents and others hoped was that the phenomenal success of the Potter books would blunt these trends, perhaps even creating a generation of lifelong readers in their wake.
More on this later, but until then…
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a series of federal tests administered every few years to a sample of students in grades 4, 8 and 12, the percentage of kids who said they read for fun almost every day dropped from 43 percent in fourth grade to 19 percent in eighth grade in 1998, the year “Sorcerer’s Stone” was published in the United States. In 2005, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth book, was published, the results were identical.
Well, I guess they really accomplished something by avoiding making the numbers slip, right?
Don’t take my word for it – ask Kara Havranek, a thirteen year old from Cleveland:
“I probably won’t read as much when Harry Potter is over,” she said.
So, anytime someone raises that argument that the Potter series has had some magical effect on literature appreciation in young people in this country, I’ll just pull this out and wave it in their face.
But while we’re on the topic, I will try to at least make an attempt at being constructive and give a suggestion to this actually sad story. If you really are interested in improving the culture of reading in this country, there’s a very simple solution: someone – you, me, everyone, and especially the parents of America – needs to get off their behind and give a child a piece of literature, instead of hoping that a pop-fad book will do the work for them. Just like parents need to stop educating their children with television and the internet, they need to stop praying that some wizard will come and do their jobs for them.
This on the same day that parents in Montgomery County are objecting to the teaching of To Kill A Mockingbird in public school, because of the usage of racial slurs. I guess if Harry Potter isn’t teaching kids right, we’re going to go to the public school system, right? Some parents, ugh.
I was right, and enjoyably so. Sadly, part of me wishes I was on the wrong side of this argument.