Popular culture is a great way to introduce more difficult concepts to young people, because it enables them to relate to what you are trying to teach.
When I was teaching citizenship, I found soap storylines could link into issues such as discrimination and employment rights and glossy celebrity magazines helped to get students talking about the conflict between the right to privacy and freedom of the press.
I recently re-read the Harry Potter books. We’re fast approaching the long-awaited release of the final film in the series and I’m probably a bit too excited about it for an adult, but I can’t wait to see how the final battle translates onto the big screen.
The funny thing about Harry Potter is that while the wizarding world isn’t realistic, it’s all embedded in situations that happen in everyday life. Maybe that’s why people like it so much, because they can see a little bit of themselves in Harry and his fellow students.
In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry of Magic meddled in the running of Hogwarts School. The teaching of the Defence Against the Dark Arts suddenly became completely theoretical, with no opportunities for the students to practise magic, and new school rules were introduced at random. Dolores Umbridge, who began as a teacher and ultimately became the head, (albeit temporarily) of Hogwarts is a good example of a dictator who used fear and intimidation to bring about her rise to power within the school.
[KS4 Citizenship 3e]
The same book also demonstrated how the media can influence people’s opinions. At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Lord Voldemort rose again. The Ministry of Magic sought to hide this, and used the wizarding paper The Daily Prophet to discredit Harry and Dumbledore’s claims that he had returned. A lot of the pupils at Hogwarts came to believe the newspaper’s side of the story, which shows perfectly how people can come to take what the media says as fact, without realising that what they are reading may be biased.
[KS3 Citizenship 3d]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a great example of discrimination. Once Lord Voldemort gained control of the Ministry of Magic, he begins to keep a list of all Muggle-born wizards and prosecute them for stealing wands, claiming that they cannot have magical powers. Harry, Ron and Hermione formed a part of the battle against this discrimination as they searched for the Horcruxes that will enable them to defeat Lord Voldemort and restore equality to the wizarding world. There is plenty of opportunity to draw parallels with issues of racial discrimination in reality and what people have done to try and combat it.
[KS3 Citizenship 1.3 and 3a; KS4 Citizenship 1.3, 3a and 3l]
So there you have it, the perfect excuse to justifiably watch a clip from a Harry Potter film in the classroom.
If you have examples of how you’ve used popular culture to teach citizenship, we’d love to hear about them.
Julie Gibbings, Harry Potter geek and Manager, Curriculum & Publications.
Part two of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows opens in cinemas on 15 July.
Citizenship curriculum links
‘…political, legal and human rights, and responsibilities of citizens’
‘…freedom of speech and diversity of views, and the role of the media in informing and influencing public opinion and holding those in power to account’
‘…political, legal and human rights and freedoms in a range of contexts from local to global’
‘…the operation of parliamentary democracy within the UK and of other forms of government, both democratic and non-democratic, beyond the UK’
‘…the origins and implications of diversity and the changing nature of society in the UK, including the perspectives and values that are shared or common, and the impact of migration and integration on identities, groups and communities’