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Harry Potter-Inspired Learning Activity: How Does Social Change Happen?

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Do your students love Harry Potter? Check out A Quest for Wizardly Efficiency and Character Sketch for a New Wizard as well as Design a New Wizard Sports Team.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger is troubled by the fact that House Elves are treated like slaves, and she is determined to do something about it. She organizes the S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) campaign to improve the plight of House Elves and grant them equal rights.

In this Learning Activity appropriate for grades 8-12, students identify aspects of Hermione’s experience that are also reflected in the stories of Americans whose real-life activism prompted major social change.

Introduction

What is social change?

Social change is defined as a change in attitudes and behaviors that determine how people relate to each other in a society. In order for social change to occur, the proposed change must be appealing to a wide audience, and that audience must view the change as necessary.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione campaigned for social change in the form of new wizarding-world policy that would free House Elves from slavery. She had the tough task of convincing other students—and even some of the House Elves themselves—that such change was necessary. She spoke one-on-one with Hogwarts classmates, developed a slogan and used promotional materials such as buttons in order to advance the campaign. Some of her Hogwarts professors—such as Minerva McGonagall—were supportive of the cause, while others—such as Severus Snape—were not. The non-violent campaign never made it to the level of large rallies or demonstrations, nor did it make it to the level of Headmaster Dumbledore’s attention. While she experienced limited success, Hermione serves as an example of good social change strategies.

Here are eight key lessons that Hermione’s experience can teach us about social change:

  1. Not everyone may be ready to accept change, or view the change as necessary.
  2. Change can take a long time to occur.
  3. Even if a group agrees on the goal of a campaign, there may be differing opinions regarding how that goal should be pursued. While not a part of Hermione’s campaign, incidents of protest resulting in arrest are not uncommon. Violent incidents unfortunately also sometimes accompany a push for change.
  4. A strong and easily remembered message (e.g., slogan, public speech) offers immediate appeal and is essential for getting people to join and support the campaign.
  5. Large demonstrations, rallies and media coverage help deliver campaign messages to a “critical mass” of people and help position the campaign goals as necessary and appealing.
  6. Young people and students are a key group to mobilize as part of the campaign.
  7. People in positions of power must be convinced if any real change is going to happen.
  8. Many years after a major social change occurs, it can be hard for people to imagine a time before the change took place, since society’s new attitudes and beliefs may seem so “normal.”

Hermione’s actions reflect those of real individuals who have organized to right perceived wrongs throughout history. Some of the more famous examples of social change took place in the United States during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Options for Student Activities

Students use each activity to reflect, either orally or in written form, on how Hermione’s eight lessons are exemplified by the experiences of real-life Civil Rights activists.

  1. Students research the American Civil Rights Movement to gain an understanding of how social change has occurred in our country. The PBS site American Experience offers an interactive timeline of the Civil Rights movement called “Eyes on the Prize.” Students can use this tool to research key people, important groups, watershed moments and their impact on American society. Suggestions for key people who clearly illustrate Hermione’s lessons include Lyndon B. Johnson, Jesse Jackson, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Martin Luther King, Jr., Mamie Till Mobley, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer.
  2. Students examine some of the greatest speeches ever delivered in America, reflecting upon the fact that a convincing argument and inspirational words are key to effecting change. One suggestion is Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Speech, in which he popularized the phrase “We shall overcome.” (Johnson’s speech is included in EducationWorld’s ranking of the 10 most important speeches delivered by a U.S. President.) Another suggestion is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address. The Nobel Prize offers a succinct biography of Dr. King, and Yale University offers the complete text of his landmark address.
  3. Students explore how images and message can be powerful forces for change. A simple Internet search for Civil Rights imagery produces a plethora of iconic pictures, illustrating both the plight and the fight of the cause. Students can see examples of placards, buttons, signs and banners used to protest the treatment of African Americans.
     

Extending the Activities

  • Students create their own signs and buttons in the vein of those created in the 1960s. These can be made to protest anything from the fictional plight of the House Elves, to perceived injustices in your local community.
  • During a classroom mock rally, students deliver speeches aimed at righting a wrong. The topics of the speeches are secondary to the primary lesson of forming a coherent, convincing argument for a cause.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
Education World®         
Copyright © 2011 Education World

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