Making School More Like Hogwarts

Posted on March 21, 2012

6


Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus

By Guest Blogger Jane Goodwin

At the risk of exposing my Harry Potter obsession to the world – and it’s no doubt far too late to worry about that – I have been looking at the series with my teacher-eyes lately and have noticed some pretty awesome things:

At age eleven,  Hogwarts students were expected to know the basic skills and were plunged directly into applying them to the real world.

There’s nothing in any of the books about the students studying grammar or spelling, but there’s PLENTY about writing essays, and a lot of hints that these essays were read carefully and graded strictly.

Reading wasn’t a class; it was what the students used in EVERY CLASS.

I saw no mention of math class, but I noticed  LOT of references to USING math to do other things.

There were no biology or chemistry classes, per se, but there was plenty of scientific application.  Students were told to measure, count, plant, prune, mix, and transfer things from one container to another.  Test tubes, flasks, stoppered bottles. . . . students were expected to handle these and more, plus their contents.

I also noticed that most classes were either lecture or hands-on, and that the hands-on classes usually followed a lecture, and featured a lot of low talking, group-work, and expectation that anything mentioned in the lecture would be necessary in order to do the group-work.

Oh, and there was HOMEWORK.  Lots and lots and lots of homework, which was expected to be done.

And the SARCASM!  Nasty sarcasm, from Snape, for example, is never nice, but a little sarcasm can be quite productive and do a lot of good.  At Hogwarts, the professors AND the students both knew how to appreciate sarcasm for its intrinsic value as a “prodder,” and also to learn by experience the difference between hurtful sarcasm and helpful sarcasm.  In other words, the students learned all about context by experiencing everything in its proper – and improper- context.

There was only one course that seemed to be sniffed at, by both teachers, administration, and students. Even that proved extremely useful in the end.  *coughcoughcough(divination)coughcough*

Students had free time.  Apparently unsupervised free time.  The professors assumed that the students had what it takes to handle themselves, whether the kids were roaming freely on the grounds or walking to the nearest town to spend the day as they wished.  And, since the kids were expected to be able to handle this, they did.

Every Hogwarts students was able to- sometimes eventually- find success at something.  Nobody was “left behind,” but many were soaring while others were still crawling.  The soarers were not required, or even expected, to remain on the ground just because someone else couldn’t leave it.  Yet.  The school’s professors were always willing to tutor, give extra time to, encourage, cheer, reach out of the box, and pass along compliments.

Peer pressure was rather encouraged, although not the bad kind.  The suggestion that a student who did poorly gave the entire House a bad name was enough to make the slackers buck up.  And the attitude of the other students toward a student who lost the House some points was enough to make the wrong-doer think twice about doing it again.

Students were often ashamed of themselves for failing, wrongdoing, or otherwise letting themselves or others down.  In our culture, personal shame is stifled, because people can’t help it, or were driven to it, or “made a mistake.”  Perhaps this lack of shame is why our public school students continue to do things a Hogwarts student would have far too much respect for himself and for others to do.

At Hogwarts, self esteem was only for those who earned it.  This is also as it should be.

I guess my question is, if Harry and his friends could do it, why can’t our kids?

Even in the upper grades, and even at the COLLEGE LEVEL, schools are still focusing on basic skills that Hogwarts expected of children when they were eleven years old.  Every textbook I’ve ever used taught and re-taught the same stuff, over and over.  Those students who “got it” at age nine are sitting in class with students who still haven’t “got it” at age seventeen, but nobody seems to care much about the students who KNOW this stuff ALREADY.  Why don’t we have accommodations for these kids?  Why do we require them to sit and endure the same stuff over and over again, when they’ve already proven mastery?  Why don’t we rejoice in their mastery and allow them to soar higher and higher, learning NEW things and applying them to the universe?  The sad fact that some kids can’t do it and never will should have nothing whatsoever to do with allowing those kids who CAN do it and are capable of even MORE to move onward and upward.

I’m thinking that perhaps Hogwarts policies weren’t just about magic; I’m thinking that Hogwarts policies were wise, practical, and enabled students to fly higher than any Quidditch player could possibly soar on a broomstick.

At Hogwarts, students were treated like soon-to-be-adults, expected to fulfill obligations, meet deadlines, and pass difficult, detailed exit exams.  Disruptions were almost non-existent, and students who just couldn’t get it were not allowed to enter the upper level classes.  It is insinuated that such students would end up as clerks, housemaids, servers, bus drivers, and service sector workers, etc.  There is nothing wrong with this.

Only the best students were allowed to go on, to soar, to learn, and apply.  They all started out at the same level, but nobody was held back because someone else in the class wasn’t ready or wouldn’t ever be ready.  It is hinted that the lower level students – those who just didn’t have the smarts or talents to soar – would be taught to run, or at least walk without tripping over every single thing, at least.  But in separate classes, not the advanced classes.  Which is AS IT SHOULD BE.

I think our own education systems might have a lot to learn from a fictional series about British schoolkids, in a school that seemed to really, really understand how to deal with them.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with magic, unless we are speaking of the fact that education, done properly, is , indeed, a magical thing that will transport sincere learners into realms heretofore undreamed of. . . .

Hogwarts policies applied to areas other than “academics,” too.  It’s too bad our actual schools don’t have  policies such as this one:  “. . . be warned: Thieving is not tolerated at Hogwarts.”

Because in so many of our public schools, thieving is just something kids do because their self-esteem requires constant puffing up by the acquisition of property, and if the property is someone else’s, well, let’s chat with the thief about honesty, tap him on the wrist, and turn him loose again. As for the true owner of the stolen property, well, life isn’t always fair, you know.

To sum up:  Hogwarts policies rocked all the way, and most real public school policies can’t even keep time to the music.

Bonus points if you can translate the title and tell me why I used it.

About the authour:

After over 20 years of teaching in public school, Jane Goodwin walked out in a huff and began teaching in a community college, blogging professionally for the business world.  Her articles about education focus on how our schools are failing and how they must improve or die.

Her blog Scheiss Weekly is at http://janegoodwin.net.  She can also be found at One by One Media  http://onebyonemedia.com and on Twitter @Mamacita.

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