Shared Text: Letter from a School Teacher

In my two featured talks at Azkatraz 2009 I gave out copies of my ‘spider-gram’ lecture notes and, when I ran out (the crowds were much larger than I anticipated), I took email addresses so I could send out the notes to those who wanted them. I sent some Azkatraz photos along with them and a link to the UChicago alumni Magazine article about Harry and the Great Books with an excerpt from Bookshelf.

I received a few notes in response, the best of which has been this note from an Elementary School teacher, whose name and location I edit out. I think you’ll see I couldn’t have made this up:

Mr. Granger,

Thank you for the Azkatraz lecture notes and photo, in which you do not at all resemble a House Elf. 🙂

The University of Chicago article
got it right, about the importance of shared text. I teach 4th and 5th grade, and this fall I will open the year with studying
Sorcerer’s Stone. Some kids will be first-time readers, and others will be ready to talk about foreshadowing and symbolism, having read the whole series. It’s not just a book.

It gives our class a shared (and beloved) text to build upon for writing (let’s see how JKR does it), reading (this character is a bit like Hermione), maybe even some science (yeah, I can sell that).

Even history… As I’m reading David McCullough’s engaging biography of John Adams (all about my favorite patriot and her husband), I find myself sorting the Founding Fathers into houses. Not everyone would agree that Adams was a Hufflepuff, but it would spark an excellent class discussion.

Thank you for the inspiration and scholarship.

(Name withheld)

4th/5th Grade Teacher

(location withheld)

Your thoughts? Me, I wish I had had a shared text and a teacher to talk about it with like this one. I say that even though was blessed to have had Mrs. Roth in Circleville, Ohio, who read aloud the Little House books to her 4th graders everyday at Nicholas Drive School. That changed my whole life…

And, speaking of Azkatraz, here are some great photos of the HogwartsProfessor gang in San Francisco courtesy of Toni Gras, Harry Potter Fan Zone feature photographer! Thank you, Toni, for sharing these.




  1. Good gracious but I looked awful in all those photos you linked to!! Note to self: Never allow picture to be taken again. Besides stealing one’s soul, it’s embarrassing!!

  2. Dave the Longwinded says

    I’ve only ever had the opportunity to teach Philosopher’s Stone in class once, but I use Harry and Luke Skywalker all the time as examples in a “World Cultures” course I get to teach sometimes at the University of Evansville. We have to start with Gilgamesh and work our way forward through all kinds of texts, including Inferno, Beowulf, and Hamlet. It’s always difficult, until I talk to them about narrative patterns in HP, and then get them to transfer that over to these “boring” texts. It often works like a charm.

    Of course, how anyone could Beowulf or Hamlet boring, I’ll never know. 😉

  3. wordsaremagic says

    John, I very much enjoyed your Azktraz lectures, and the brief chat we had.

    I am a teacher, but since I teach Rhetoric, there’s not much room for teaching HP. But, one major problem we face in rhetoric (and therefore in our entire cultural discussions) is this very absence of a shared text. It leaves us in a condition in which it is almost as if we are all speaking different languages, sort of a Tower of Babel condition, brought about not by raising some tower, but by continual “leveling of the playing field” until we are a relativistic flat plane where nothing can have value but personal preference.

    JKR’s smuggling of values into a postmodernist world and resulting creation of a kind of shared text is very encouraging

  4. revgeorge says

    maggiemay, that’s the idea I was using, the old stories of missionaries or explorers finding natives who thought taking a photo was stealing their soul. Of course, the natives were probably more on the mark than we thought. 🙂

  5. Dave the Longwinded says

    wordsaremagic, I sympathize with your description in one sense. The lack of a shared text certainly makes things rather difficult to keep up with. But, I don’t lament the profusion of ideas. I’m always bothered by the resulting hyper-specialization and occasional territoriality that comes it!

    I like HP because it puts me in contact with so many people from different perspectives over at The Hog’s Head. I’m studying rhetoric and media through ODU. Travis Prinzi sees the books through both a theological lens and a literary one. Our newest blogengamot member (revgeorge) is an ordained minister. We have librarians, psychology and behavior experts — all kinds of readers with different interests and expertise. I’ve gotten an education there I couldn’t have found in any college classroom!

  6. maggiemay says

    Dave the longwinded,

    ODU, you say? Do you ever have group discussions? I would be interested and so would a group of 20-something (age) young people I know in Norfolk. I’ll keep checking the Mace and Crown!


    Your “note to self” really made me laugh, and it’s good advice for me too! Where does that “stealing your soul” idea come from? I seem to remember some missionaries from somewhere saying that taking photos at their mission was a problem because of that belief…

  7. Dave the Longwinded says

    maggiemay, I do my PhD coursework via distance ed and video conferencing. I’m not sure if they have too many discussion groups or not, HP related or no. You might look up Dr. Joyce Neff’s email on the English Dept.’s homepage if you’re interested in knowing more, or even starting one. She’s the dept. head this time around. They do a newsletter for PhD students.

    I know for sure some of my classmates are HP fans!

    Over at The Hog’s Head, we helped out one of my classmates last fall with a survey she did as part of an empirical research project.

  8. revgeorge says

    wordsaremagic, a very good statement, except for the part about mathematics. That’s the devil’s science!! 🙂

  9. wordsaremagic says

    Dave the Longwinded:
    I guess I may have given a wrong impression by my great delight in at least one step toward a shared text. Actually, I am a great believer in broad based education in all areas, and I tend to reject specialization if and when it reduces the full human potential, when it turns us into functions rather than humans.

    We should ALL be involved in arts, music, astronomy, physics, poetry, history, mathematics, etc. Love of Beauty for the sake of beauty, curiosity about the Truth of things, a search for Practical Wisdom in real circumstances—these are the marks of full human potential, even if we each must focus on some smaller area in our effort to earn a living and contribute the common welfare of the society. It used to be that when I used those three terms, Truth, Beauty, and Practical Wisdom, people recognized a shared cultural text: Aristotle.

    Post modernist relativism makes Aristotle as philosophically meaningless as Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, or Sponge Bob. While the desire to more tolerant and to broaden our understanding is wonderful, the absolute leveling of all things has resulted not in increased appreciation of the previously neglected texts, but in contempt for all texts and in what I can only call arrogantly aggressive ignorance.

  10. LOL- the devil’s science! I have to remember that one about math.

    John, I loved that letter. I wish when I taught a hundred years ago that we had had something like Harry Potter to discuss in second grade. I used things like The Little House Books, which had a lot of value, but weren’t nearly modern enough for some of the kids. And it wasn’t something they’d already heard about or read – hence, it was not a shared text to the kids.

    I loved seeing all the photos. But in the group ones, especially the Hogwarts Meet-up ones, I wished that they had been labeled with everyone’s name. It’s great to be able to put a face with the name, but nearly impossible to guess who’s who. Any chance that you can post one of those group pics with the names matched up?

  11. Think the idea of a shared text cannot be overstated in this world of polarization that we find ourselves. If we can move beyond the black and white caricatures being painted of ANY side of an argument nowadays, we might actually discover that we can address (if not outright solve) many of the issues confronting our society today.

    I say, “Hooray!” for our 4th/5thgrade teacher, and may she and others like her have long lives in the classroom (perhaps we send them each a sliver of the Philosopher’s Stone?)…

  12. Hey, as a high-school English teacher in training, I’m hoping someday to teach Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix alongside The Chocolate War as examples of student characters rebelling against oppression in school. Since reading the novels in the last three months, and seeing the movies over the last two years, I too have wondered about the Houses of people and characters, and their Patronuses. I think the John Adams of the musical 1776 would be a Gryffindor, and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin Ravenclaws. I think Amy March of Little Women might be a Slytherin. I think Holden Caulfield’s Patronus is a duck! No, I’m no expert in academese, but I am an excellent writer and a creative thinker, with a lot to offer my students. Maybe people like me and like that 4th/5th grade teacher can blow some fresh wind through the cobwebs of academia.

  13. Arabella Figg says

    I also loved this letter and wish I’d had a shared text.

    Melanie, I suspect Meg might also have been a Slytherin, Beth a Hufflepuff, and Jo a Gryffindor.

    I’m sure you’ll be a teacher beloved by your students, who will be better prepared than many to more fully connect with literature.

  14. Hi John. I’ve decided to start haunting this blog too (in addition to the Hogshead and HPANA, my first fandom home). We met at Azkatraz (Alix), and I enjoyed your talks. I gave my mom Harry Potter’s Bookshelf (after reading it myself) and she was very happy.
    I’m very glad we have Harry Pooter as a shared text, and I can’t wait until my nieces and nephews are a little older so that they can read the books and we can discuss it together. I just told my boyfriend the high school history teacher about the idea of sorting the Founding Fathers into houses and he loved it. He’s teaching AP U.S. history this year and starting toying with the idea of turning that into a class discussion himself.

Speak Your Mind