Saturday, July 01, 2000

RAMSEY: Education

She's just wild about Harry

        July 8 is marked on the calendar with exclamation points and asterisks. The week preceding it, I am promised, will be devoted to room-cleaning and extra violin practicing. The week following it, I in turn have agreed, will be cleared of camps and unnecessary commitments, which I interpret as trips to the park and my daughter probably translates as daily showers.

        The result: has been called. Harry Potter is soon to arrive at our house.

        It would be hard to quantify the level of excitement this has caused. Harry's newest adventures have been speculated upon for months: Will Cho Chang become Harry's girlfriend? Will Harry's protector, Professor Dumbledore, retire? Anticipation crackles in the air like ice cubes in warm Kool-Aid.

Wits and wiles
        For my part, I am just excited by my daughter's excitement.

        She has read the first three volumes of Harry Potty, as her 2-year-old brother calls it, a total of 19 times. She has always been an eager reader. Still, had I tried to force that level of commitment, no amount of privilege-withdrawing or chore-delegating would have accomplished it.

        The very best thing about Harry Potter books is that kids love them on their own.

        Teachers tell me that even the most reluctant readers are enticed by these books. A sort of wonderful peer pressure has sprung up, in which being cool means carrying a copy of the Prisoner of Azakaban under your arm and knowing Professor McGonagall from Professor Trelawney and Scabbers the rat from Crookshanks the cat.

        At 300-plus pages per book, this is no mean feat. And while the vocabulary is not Chaucer, it is certainly far more demanding than the average proficiency test question; and the plot twists and turns more than a freshly dug earthworm.

        Like the main characters in most children's literature, Harry Potter is a child essentially on his own. An orphan who is barely tolerated by his relatives, he goes off to boarding school by himself, manages his own money and makes his way in the world by his wits and wiles.

Harry's their own
        Children find this independence eternally appealing. In fact, it's not a bad model for their own learning.

        Our carefully nurtured children have feasted on enrichment, but been starved for self-motivation. They do what they do because we check the homework and sign them up for the classes. They like what they like because we tell them to like it.

        Harry Potter is something they take up because they want to. He is someone they own, on whom they are the expert. He is their vernacular, and one dip into his world of magically appearing banquets and mail-delivering owls leads them into a place that only they can inhabit.

        A place furnished by one's imagination. Peppered with eccentric characters. Moved along at breakneck speed by heady victories and unforeseen complications.

        “Mom, you've got to read this book,” my daughter begged me for months, waving Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in front of me. Good writing, scary twists, paintings that talk and capes that make you disappear — her reviews were irresistible.

        So I read it. And then the next two. July 8 is coming not a day too soon.

        In the end, the wisest way to guide our children, it appears, is to sometimes let our children be the guide.

        Write Krista at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202, or at


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