Fox News: OSU Potter Class ‘Oddball Wacky’

Ohio State University is offering a course on Harry Potter as Cultural Artifact and Literature. Fox News has included it in its online slideshow of ‘Oddball 101: The 11 Wackiest College Courses Being Taught on American Campuses Today.’

Really, though, at $814, the Harry Potter course is the cheapest offering among the wacky. Most of the others, from FemSex and Maple Syrup Making to Tree Climbing, Zombies, and Arguing with Judge Judy, come in at over $4,000. Potter Studies is definitely the way to go, especially if your Minor is in Economics.

Fact Check: I just searched for a Harry Potter course at OSU and found only one on ‘Narrative Theory’ that was taught last Spring and a 575 Level class on ‘Themes.’ Could Fox News be wrong? A first!


  1. Shows how far the academy has fallen. Really, in this day & age does anyone need to go to college, spend thousands of dollars, and then take a selection of courses that one could easily do online or in a cheap seminar format? The university, like most things in our culture, is losing rapidly it’s gate keeper status of education. As with most things, in some ways that’s good, in some ways it’s not so good.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    The question really is “Could Fox News be right? A first!” Nothing like flaunting your ignorance and unfactual information to the unwashed masses.

  3. No, once again, Fox News is wrong. I hate articles like this: we get them every year at the Modern Language Association. Some reporter cherry-picks his or her way through about a thousand presentations and panels and finds a handful with provocative titles. He or she then does not actually *attend* said panels and so has absolutely no idea what they are about. Then the “results” are published, along with a tongue-clicking comment about what “those wacky professors” are teaching “kids these days.” (You know they do this. They’re the same reporters who go to Harry Potter conventions, read the program, and pick the most outrageous titles. They sure aren’t at your lectures, or they’d say so.)

    I wouldn’t care so much if it didn’t add fat to the fire that professors are corrupt, lazy and greedy socialists trying to brainwash your kids, which leads to drastic cuts in education and helicoptering laws like the ones they keep trying to cram through in Ohio. It may be “funny,” but the funny sucker-punches my ability to teach Shakespeare and Beowulf and also Children’s Literature in a meaningful way.

    So many of those courses are misleadingly described. Maple Syrup? Well, sure. My school teaches courses in Wine and Beer. Oh, the horror, only we have a school of Restaurant and Hospitality Management. Of course we have courses in Wine and Beer. Tree Climbing? It’s a required gym class. And the hypocrisy of Fox News in their “shock! I tell you I am SHOCKED!” tone they take about the FemSex course while providing a sensational graphic that I would bet you good money was added by them: Fox News is notorious for its gratuitous jiggle factor.

    RevGeorge, I would love to teach more courses on Classics in translation and non-Shakespearean Renaissance Drama, only the people who want “education” to be essentially vocational training won’t let me.

    Argh, I hate articles like this, and I would have thought you would too, John, as they dismiss Harry Potter out of hand as not worth studying. I would love to offer a seven book seminar like that, and I’m sure it would fill with a huge waiting list, but I probably never will be able to because we have no money, and it’s “not practical.” Partly because of articles like this.

  4. I feel your pain, MoonyProf!

    I suppose it’s a Catch-22 of the postmodern Academy that those schools that offer courses with Potter as a focus or component see them fill immediately and generate a huge waiting list (and not Powerpuff Academies but Yale, Princeton, Pepperdine, KSU, and Bryn Mahr) but most English Departments won’t offer classes on Harry for fear of winding up on a “Wackiest Classes” list, or, much more likely, because teachers fear not being thought of as sufficiently “serious” by peers and tenure review board members.

    I can name two names (but won’t) of professors at top-flight schools, one tenured one not, both of whom were told by their peers that their Potter interest was a bad career move. The tenured professor laughed; the non-tenured teacher decided not to offer the course s/he planned.

    That’s not FOX News at work, at least not directly.

    The funny thing is (‘funny’ queer, not ‘funny’ humorous) that we have demonstrable interest in a 4100 page work that invites an exploration of the heart of all the ‘whats,’ ‘hows,’ and ‘whys’ of literature and the experience of reading — and schools balk at using it in the classroom. Weird.

    Again, I feel your frustration, MoonyProf! It must be galling not to be able to take advantage of this remarkable, dare I say “once in a lifetime”?, opportunity in the classroom.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I like the option of having so-called “wacky” courses. I just don’t like them substituting for general survey courses. So, for instance, if you can get through college without taking a survey course of Western Civilization or American History or English Literature & instead take really, really specific & narrow courses, that might be good, but don’t give one a supposed liberal education, that’s when I tend to get a little leery.

  6. My college is in triage mode, too, Moonyprof. I don’t get to teach my fun storytelling class anymore, and I only get Appalachian Culture once a year (and only because we don’t offer many humanities). Eek, I sound like Snape snarking over being denied DADA again.
    I do manage to sneak in essay topics that allow my students to write about HP (or Twilight, or Lemony Snicket,etc.) as serious, beneficial literature. In the spirit of Rowling, I try to make the class a rousing adventure so my troops don’t realize how much they are learning. Our culture has so compartmentalized learning and fun that the pundits assume the twain can never meet. How tragic. I have students sign up for my classes just because they know I’ll use examples from Tolkien and Rowling (and my infamous Youtube habit. I don’t know if they ever recovered from watching “Viva La Vida” as part of our Oedipus lesson) in addition to Shakespeare and Spenser.
    Of course, other students just call me the nutty grammar witch and give my office door a wide berth just in case I’m contagious.

  7. Although thinking about it, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where all these liberal education survey courses didn’t have to be taught at the college level because after 6 years of secondary education the students had already been steeped in history, literature, philosophy et al. So that when they got to college, they would have the foundation & the skills to focus on a wide variety of “wacky” courses where they could put all their knowledge of grammar, logic, & rhetoric to good use.

    But maybe I’m just pining for the classical education I never had… 🙂

  8. I’m extremely lucky in one respect: it is very hard to remove Shakespeare from the curriculum. The definition of a General Education course was changed a few years ago (why, I don’t know) and I worked hard to rewrite the course specifications so that it would still be General Ed. The good part is that I still have lots of Accounting and Agriculture students in that class. I think we all benefit from that.

    John, it’s tenure review and publication: got it in one. It’s part of an extremely skewed system that values narrow specialization over broad scope and publication over teaching. I get away with it because I don’t teach at a “top flight” school, but at a decent master’s degree granting public university. Cons: the students are not as well prepared, I’m at the mercy of whatever political winds blow, and sadly, I’m not as well paid as my colleagues at our Research One schools. Pros: I can teach some courses that are not in a narrow area of specialization and it doesn’t bother anyone that I developed a side specialty in Children’s Literature, since I “had to” teach it anyway. The all Harry Potter class is a non-starter because it doesn’t meet state guidelines for teacher preparation.

    Revgeorge: I worry terribly about what will happen if we do not start to value a liberal arts education more than we do. I don’t see any harm in using Star Trek or Harry Potter as the spoonful of sugar that catches student interest, as long as they are learning larger concepts in English Literature and Philosophy.

  9. I definitely see RevGeorge’s point. Al the people who write to me with their regrets about their education almost uniformly express their sadness/anger about not having surveyed history, philosophy, and literature as undergraduates. The complaint at my alma mater was that we had to do all those things…

    My regrets about my college education? I pretty much took my senior year off because of Student Gov’t responsibilities. I could have taken the three quarter sequence on Dante: Inferno in the Fall, Purgatorio in the Winter, and Paradiso in the Spring. Or Dostoevsky. Or Shakespeare.

    Missed ’em all. What an idiot.

  10. Arabella Figg says

    Just wanted to make sure this was clear. I was satirizing Fox News in my comment above.

    Elizabeth, may I join your Nutty Grammar Witch Club?

  11. Arabella Figg says

    “But maybe I’m just pining for the classical education I never had…”

    Ditto, revgeorge.

  12. That’s a super point, revgeorge. Some of what we think of as “heavy-duty” lit was once relegated to the “bunny ” courses because standards were much higher. When C.S. Lewis was completing the equivalent of high school in the US, the Faerie Queen was what he was reading for grins as a break from the assigned reading for his tutor! I can barely expect undergrads to trudge through a Spenser sonnet.

    Always room for you in my coven, Arabella!

  13. Dave, classical education is making a comeback though. Quite a few church schools in my denomination use it as their model. While it may not have been as available in the past, I still think it the preferable model of education with caveats. I have especially looked on high school education, from both the inside & outside & as a guardian for two teenage boys, & found it severely wanting.

    Anyway, thinking back on my own education, I can’t think of much I actually really learned in school that I hadn’t already picked up elsewhere or didn’t learn better elsewhere.

  14. Dave the Longwinded says

    revgeorge, that classical education you’re pining for has only every truly been available in its most robust forms to a relatively small number students over the decades. I chose to take courses on everything from the English Romantics to “Encyclopedic Narratives” between my undergrad and MA courses. I didn’t always like it — to this day I refuse to own a Thomas Hardy book. And while Crime and Punishment is a great novel, I find Master and Margherita a little more interesting!

    I studied (badly, I think) both literature and philosophy as an undergrad. I remember feeling drawn to such a wide range of interests that I wanted to study things that would let me consider everything from literary theory to the social consequences of ET life. I had real trepidation entering a PhD program because I feared hyper-specialization — especially given that my primary interests now are games, interactive media, and experience design. I like these fields because they have become necessarily so interdisciplinary. I’ve been reading everything from Aristotle’s Rhetoric to cognitive science re: narrative experiences.

  15. Many homeschoolers rely on classical models, too. I tutor a delightful young lady in our homeschool group whose folks use just such a model. She’s 13 and trundling along through the Great Books. I am interested to see how things go with some of the racier bits of the books on this year’s list (I haven’t yet convinced her family that HP is “safe,” but I’m working on it!)
    I’m sure she’ll be practicing medicine before she’s old enough to vote!

  16. Dave, classical education for me is a grounding in the trivium of grammar, logic, & rhetoric. Ground someone in facts, then teach them how to reason, then teach them how to argue. Generally this involves the grounding you suggest but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Much homeschooling is kind of based off of this classical model but doesn’t necessarily focus so much on the ancient philosophers or authors.

    As for adding in other voices, well, I certainly didn’t see much of this going on in most of my government education. If you wanted it, you had to go out of your way to find it. I ended up taking a women in history course in college as an elective. Of course, that was back in the Dark Ages of the 1980’s. What I find disturbing now is the opposite error of going from not hearing any alternate voices to only hearing alternate voices. This idea that you can get through college only reading feminist authors or reading African-American authors or only reading fill in the blank…

    Or that you can get through college without having any broad survey in things like literature or history or philosophy but only in niche topics, which might be great & interesting courses, but are only very narrowly focused.

    My main point, though, was that why do we even have to go to a classroom, pay thousands of dollars, etc, when much of this education can now be done through other means? Why worry about which voices are being heard in the university when you can go online or to a library or bookstore & have access to thousands of works, whether of books or music or videos from a whole variety of voices? The thing is with technology education & learning can be done in such a different way now than it was in the past.

    Not with all types of learning, of course. I’d still like my doctors to have some hands on experience. 🙂 And in the training of pastors, there’s a certain formation that goes on in seminary that I don’t think you can get totally through distance learning.

    But I got to thinking last Spring reading through all the graduation announcements in the paper, where they tell where a kid’s going to go to college & what they’ll be studying. I saw one girl who was going to go to a private college & pay upwards of $12000 a semester to get a degree in…Art History!! My mind screamed out WHY!! Why go to college for four years, pay tens of thousands of dollars, waste your time in class when you could be out in art galleries or museums or online immersing yourself in art, to get a degree in art history, so that you can what? Get a job teaching art history?

    Well, I’m ranting now but hopefully a bit of my point is coming across. Besides, my BA was in History & Political Science. Talk about worthless… 🙂

  17. Dave the Longwinded says

    I’ll stake out one question here:

    What are we calling a “classical education”?

    I typically teach for two Methodist-affiliated liberal arts schools, and one of them has a Great Books cycle (called something else) that generates really mixed results. For one, they want the courses to do something they aren’t designed to do — teach writing and composition. The other problem is that they are taught by faculty who have no relevant academic background. While I think the biologists are brilliant, they’re teaching Plato, Dante, and the Tao te Ching to first-year students. Throw into that mix that the vast majority of students range from apathetic to downright hostile towards the texts, and the cycle’s results range all over the place.

    “Classical education” suggests, to me, grounding students in Greek philosophy, Greco/Roman rhetoric, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, etc. While I have no problem with any of these texts themselves, I do think focusing on them can sometimes lead to the exclusion of other voices relevant to the world as we know it today — most notably, women, as well as writers from other cultures. In the cycle I described above, exactly one woman writer was represented across two semesters of texts — Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz.

  18. Dave the Longwinded says

    revgeorge, mine was in English and philosophy. Mine was worthless-er! lol

    What you describe concerning the extreme pendulum shift might be the case at some schools, but it’s by no means universal, or even ubiquitous. I had a large number of postmodern, liberal, avant-garde professors, and my education was extremely grounded in the “dead white guy canon” (as I took to calling it).

    Hmmm… the trivium. I’m not sure about that one. Logic and reason are one thing. “Fact” is a totally different issue to me. But there’s my inner postmodernist coming out. I know you love that!

  19. Dave, I can certainly understand a postmodern’s leeriness with “facts.” But the problem is you have to start somewhere. Nobody, no matter how hard they try, is ever going to come up with a completely non-biased curriculum. It’s always going to reflect the biases of the compiler.

  20. says

    I’ve enjoyed reading the discussion, and perhaps orbit somewhat around the mean of the comments. Thought I’d comment on something else: new sources.

    Looking at the sources (FoxNews acted as an aggregator, not an originator), most were from the Associated Press, with Reuters also involved. Perhaps FoxNews should have done a better job on vetting two such unreliable sources (), but I don’t think that most cable or broadcast news do any better.

    By the way, the Harry Potter item was credited to “AP/Warner Bros.” And . . . you’ve got to admit, the series was funny. (Everyone *did* recognize that it was a humor item, right? 🙂 )

  21. Beth Sutton-Ramspeck says

    I know this is an ancient discussion, but I just found it and have to chime in: the class in question was my class. The quoted course description was an excerpt from my syllabus. Long story as to how they got the information from me on false pretenses (and without identifying with Fox News). No, it was not going to be offered in the upcoming term as indicated in the story but had been offered the previous winter. I’ve offered it twice since, to full enrollment, and it’s developed a reputation as a challenging course. Students have to develop genuine analytical skills and, speaking of classics, we discuss, among other things, the Aristotelian hero, not to mention connections between HP and classical mythology. I consider my trashing on Fox (even if I never got the credit I was due) one of the highlights of my teaching career.

Speak Your Mind