FIRST-PERSON: Harry Potter and a very controversial field trip

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)--School field trips, remember them? Brown bag lunches, crowding single file onto yellow buses, teachers admonishing students to "pay attention" and "stay together," writing an essay about what was gleaned on the outing were all part of the learning experience. The times, they have certainly changed.

Beginning Friday, Nov. 16, thousands of Wisconsin school children will be whisked off to movie theaters not to view the latest film adaptation of Shakespeare, but to be entertained by the cinematic magic of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Because all good field trips should have some sort of educational purpose, the educators promoting the Potter outing say they are doing so in order to promote reading. "Kids have just eaten these books up, and we saw it as a way to push reading," said Liz Ferger, assistant principal at Port Washington's Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Using a movie, any movie, to promote reading is like utilizing Brittany Spears to promote modesty or Bill Clinton to promote ethics.

That J.K. Rowling, author of the four Harry Potter books, has sparked a revival of reading is not up for debate. The first installment of the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," was published in 1997. Since that time more than 116 million copies of all four books have been sold in the United States alone.

The Harry Potter books are already promoting reading. School and public libraries have waiting lists for those desiring to devour Rowling's writing.

Harry Potter movies -- You don't honestly believe it will end with one do you? -- will inspire what most movies inspire -- mind gratifying entertainment.

There is nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainment sake. However, for a public school to justify taking students to see a film, the movie must move beyond pure pleasure and into the realm of instruction or inspiration.

Movies that have transcended pure entertainment and have added value to society have been produced. However, they are rare indeed. Typically they have been historically accurate accounts of past events or have conveyed a significant timeless message -- a message that challenged or inspired individuals to be better persons or better citizens.

A school field trip to a movie that has the potential to motivate students to appreciate history or bring a classic of literature to life might be appropriate. Harry Potter, I am afraid, does not fit into any category that warrants busing school children in mass to view it.

While it is doubtful the movie field trips will have students lining up at the library to read what they have already seen, they will expose kids to the message of Harry Potter, which at best is mixed, and has created its share of controversy.

Having read "The Sorcerer's Stone," I have to admit J.K. Rowling is a masterful storyteller with a vivid imagination. If Harry Potter were only a fantasy novel that conveyed the positive character traits of bravery, loyalty, and friendship it would be one thing. However, that Rowling mixes witchcraft and occult practices with her fantasy is what many find disturbing.

The occult symbols and practices found in Rowling's writings were not birthed in her imagination. Her knowledge of such things had to come from research or experience. On the web site "The Ultimate Harry Potter Lexicon" is a section titled "Harry Potter for Grown-Up's". Here, in an interview, the author professes that she was two-thirds through the first manuscript before she realized she was writing a fantasy book. "I suddenly thought, This has unicorns in it. I'm writing fantasy," Rowling said. In this interview, she insists that fantasy genre did not inspire her writing in any great way.

Two-thirds into the book the reader has been introduced to spells, incantations, and all other sorts of magical happenings. By the author's own admission, Harry Potter was not intended as pure fantasy. Rowling conveys a variety of messages with her writing, some positive. However, her glorification of all things "magical" is not one of them.

School field trips can be memorable educational experiences. However, the district's sponsoring field trips to see "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is promoting nothing more than entertainment - controversial entertainment at that.


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