A trio of recent studies from the University of Modena in Italy have demonstrated the power of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling Harry Potter series in challenging prejudices in pupils. The studies, led by professor Loris Vezzali, were conducted at three different levels: primary school, high school, and university. Students were divided into two groups. One group read passages relating to prejudice seen in the world of Harry Potter, and the second control group reading passages that did not have anything to do with prejudice. Scientific American reports:
In the first, 34 elementary school children were given a questionnaire assessing their attitudes towards immigrants, a group frequently stigmatized in Italy. The children were then divided into two groups that met once a week for six weeks to read Harry Potter passages and discuss it with a research assistant. One group read passages relating to prejudice, like the scene where Draco Malfoy, a shockingly blond pure-blood wizard, calls Harry’s friend Hermione a “filthy little Mud-blood.” The control group read excerpts unrelated to prejudice, including the scene where Harry buys his first magic wand. A week after the last session, the children’s attitudes towards out-groups were assessed again. Among those who identified with the Harry Potter character, attitudes toward immigrants were found to be significantly improved in children who’d read passages dealing with prejudice. The attitudes of those who’d read neutral passages hadn’t changed.
Vezzali and colleagues conducted two follow-up studies with similar results. One found that reading Harry Potter improved attitudes towards homosexuals in Italian high school students. The other linked the books with more compassion towards refugees among English university students.
Of course, reading all the Harry Potter series would be a challenge for any teacher, but fighting prejudice can be challenging so consideration of the prejudices within these stories could be a good, relevant tool that pupils will be able to relate to. Indeed, we came across this comic strip of all the seven Harry Potter books, so perhaps could be used as a stimulus: