Dezember 07, 2018

Harry Potter and the Curious Centaurs

Happy Birthday Harry Potter! Even though I was a bit sad to realize that the boy who can do magic actually turned twenty this year am I really that old already? I am very glad to have the books in my life. Congratulations J.K. Rowling, I feel that most of the positive reviews are actually well earned (albeit there are many mistakes I personally am most bugged by two, but see below for that). My daughter also loves your story which is why we discussed the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest the other day.

Being very young and having recently had a baby brother, she innocently asked me whether there are also women centaurs. And if there were, how would they feed their babies the horse or the human style? Initially I just found this a funny thing a child would say. Yet, when I thought about it I wondered how the centaurs actually come into this life. Are there female centaurs, or, centaurides who are not allowed a part in the Harry Potter saga? Or are they offsprings of an alliance between humans and horses? And if so, is it a male human being who...?

Well, I realize this is not important for the beatiful narration at all. Maybe they are just magically created. Or have always been there. I just have not been able to stop getting back to the question of origin since my daughter asked me.

(As for the mistakes, I am most bothered by...
1. the fact that the job of defence against the dark arts teacher is said to be jinxed in book 6. Dumbledore explains to Harry that he could never find a teacher who stayed for more than 1 year after Voldemort had asked for the post. However, when Hagrid introduces Professor Quirrell in book 1 he says that he took a year off and has never been the same after that. So he must have stayed for at least two years in total yes, with a break, but still...
2. the changing height of the tunnel under the Weeping Willow in book 3. When Harry and Hermione enter it for the first time they have to bend almost double to get to the Shrieking Shag. We later learn that the tunnel was big enough for a werewolf in the past, though. On the way back Sirius even lets Professor Snape float in the air. In the tunnel Snape's head merely keeps bumping on the ceiling. So how low is this tunnel supposed to be?)

Above referred to as book 1, 3 and 6:
1. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
3. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
6. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.

März 31, 2018

Humor in Teaching

One of the persons teaching me to teach once said: "Get some absurdity into the classroom and you'll get fun." This is perhaps the most important thing I learned during my teacher training. Humor is a tremendously powerful positive force we should use.

There are many ways to do this – some as small as integrating funny methods to greet each other at the beginning of a lesson. It is a way of playing with the usual and expected, creating a meaningful difference that makes us laugh. Part of the reason why humor makes us relaxed and be open is probably the fact that it helps us understand that we are not absulutely defined and/or oppressed by the social norms that structure our cultural existence.

There also is a relationship between humor and creativity. To be creative requires us to go above and beyond what is usual and expected, too, and I believe that the integration of absurdity into teaching can be a strong motivation to be creative.

Although the difference created by absurdity can only be meaningful if it is related to established norms, I think it is unproblematic not to reinforce such norms by using respective activities. I am afraid this is not so easy when it comes to jokes, funny stories, humorous theatre plays etc. These have a narrative character, and you need at least some conventions to narrate. This can be problematic as you have to rely on some norms to put others into doubt or to ridicule them/ make them seem funny in some way.

By creating a funny atmosphere, teachers help their students to relax and be open. Yet, if the norms/conventions reinforced by a joke seem unhealthy/oppressive etc. it might turn out to be a dangerous situation for the students.

Social codes conveyed by humor should be much easier to internalize for them and much more difficult to withstand and deny. Messages implicit in the setting/background can be extremely hard to reject for children, especially if they are enforced in a fun and incidental way.

So while humor can be very liberating and motivating, we have to be careful to ensure its alleviating character with regard to social norms.