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Mischief managed!

Or how I teach a literature elective on Harry Potter

By Anne Frances N. Sangil

WIZARDS OF DLSU. Students wearing their Harry Potter uniform for their special elective class

WIZARDS OF DLSU. Students wearing their Harry Potter uniform for their special elective class

“So there I was, inside the small theater at the Warner Brothers Leavesden Studios in England, watching the three young actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint talk onscreen about what visitors should expect from the Harry Potter Studio Tour, when quite slowly, the screen went to black, the lights dimmed, and the silver screen went up, and up, and up. . . to reveal, amid the collective gasp of the audience, the impressive doors of the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At that moment I remember looking at my friends Giselle and Abbey, and with great effort (a huge lump of something was already forming in my throat) all I could tell them was, ‘We’re home!’  And that feeling that I had while standing in the middle of the Great Hall, that wondrous excitement, is something that I wish to share with all of you—the magic that is Harry Potter.”

THE MAGIC CONTINUES Witches and wizards of the Harry Potter elective at De La Salle University

THE MAGIC CONTINUES Witches and wizards of the Harry Potter elective at De La Salle University

And so goes my typical, opening spiel to my Hogwarts-DLSU literature elective students. As to be expected, it always gets the best reaction, especially from the hardcore fans who were lucky enough to enlist.  From what I’ve been told, my Rowling elective is one of the most popular courses in school, not to mention one of the first to get filled up during enlistment.

It is no mystery, of course, as to the ‘why’ of it all. Many people (still) love Harry Potter and they can’t seem to get enough of the Boy Who Lived. So I’d like to think I am duty-bound (as an educator and as a Harry Potter fan myself) to do my part in spreading the love, not just for the written word, but for all things Harry.

Back in 2005, when I was serving as vice chair of the Department of Literature at De La Salle University, our then chairperson, David Jonathan Bayot, told me that I should teach an elective on Harry Potter. My reply, naturally, was “Seriously?” Of course, it was “seriously?” with a dash of incredulity and a pint of enthusiasm. “Will it even work?” I wondered. “Will students take it seriously?” My questions, of course, were on point. Students are not exactly fond of reading anything. Taking a literature elective is a requirement, a chore, something that they have to do because it is part of their curriculum. And back then, students simply chose electives based on the best schedules offered. Nobody wondered about the nature of the electives during enlistment. But our department wanted to shake things up a bit and offer courses that are not only staples in the academe (a class on Shakespeare, for instance), but also offer courses that are popular. We wanted to offer electives that matter to students, that resonate with their current concerns and interests. And so we started offering courses on Tolkien and Jane Austen, electives on gothic literature and speculative fiction, and most recently, even a class on Game of Thrones.

Make haste, Mr. Shakespeare. The Boy Who Lived cometh.

Imagine their surprise when on the first day of the term the students were told that they were to study Harry Potter for the entire trimester. Reactions were varied, of course, during that first year of teaching the course. Some students were excited, while some had fears (oh those thick books that they had to read!). One even told me during our first meeting that he hadn’t even held a single Harry Potter book in his life. But even the non-fans ultimately became fans, or at least developed a healthy level of respect toward Rowling and Harry by term’s end (the student who confessed to not holding a Harry Potter book ended up being the class Head Boy and receiving the highest grade in his batch).

Yes, I sort my students into Houses. Yes, there are Prefects and a Head Boy and a Head Girl. Yes, they earn points every meeting and compete to win the House Cup. And yes, they do dress up every meeting, too.

They always come in robes.  This is, after all, Hogwarts-DLSU.

Of course, as with all things, this class is not perfect. It has seen some disappointments as well. A handful of students have failed (yes, you can fail a Harry Potter class, apparently), and there were several instances when I went all Dolores Umbridge on them for being unable to meet my (high) expectations (you can ask my former students about my numerous Educational Decrees). But after many years of teaching this elective, I can confidently say that the outstanding owls outweigh the ridiculous rats, if you get my drift.

I have been teaching this course for 12 years now and I have had the pleasure of sharing the magic across 12 batches (I only teach this elective once a year). I doubt if the alumni of Hogwarts-DLSU still remember the lessons they’ve learned, from our heated discussions on feminism vis-à-vis the Potter novels, to debates regarding slavery and discrimination in the magical community, to consumerism and fandom studies, to our mind-bending discussions about time and time-travel. The topics are varied, but one thing stays the same—the friendships that were formed in my class. And while my students may forget all those academic lessons, it is my wish that they remember and keep those friendships. After all, it’s what Harry Potter is all about.

And while I cannot really vouch for the course’s effect on students, if it had any influence at all in their own lives, I have to say that teaching this course has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done as an academic. It is one thing to educate people. It is another to share with them your passion for something you deeply love. And for that opportunity, I am truly grateful. I would like to think that I am a better teacher because of Harry Potter (and Ms. Rowling, of course!). And that I am a better professor because of my students.

And so to them, my students across many batches, allow me to refashion a famous Rowling phrase. Always remember that though our academic term has ended, Hogwarts-DLSU will always be here to welcome you home.

Anne Frances Sangil is a full-time assistant professor at the Department of Literature, De La Salle University where she currently teaches art appreciation, literature, and popular culture. She is also a member of the local Harry Potter group Pinoy Harry Potter [Hogwarts Philippines], and also serves as Chapter Organizer for the Harry Potter Alliance, an international community of HP fans devoted to community engagement, working for equality, human rights, and literacy.