The Declining State of Magical Education in Great Britain

by Diana Johnston

Okay, I’ve got to admit it – I’m a school junkie. I love school! (Pathetic, yes, I know.) I’ve always enjoyed taking tough subjects and exploring new ideas, and even though I’ve just graduated from college, I’m already looking for more subjects to take through online classes. If you start a conversation with me, I’ll almost always manage to start some sort of heated debate over various philosophical ideas. With this in mind, it was only natural that when I got hooked on Harry Potter, my main interest was the organization of Hogwarts and the content of the magical education that these children were receiving (I really don’t care about who’s dating whom!). However, I was quickly disappointed in what I read about Hogwarts, and somewhat alarmed as well, over the poor quality of magical education available.

Let’s consider the coursework available to Hogwarts students. All first and second years take the same courses:

  • Astronomy
  • Charms
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts
  • Herbology
  • History of Magic
  • Potions
  • Transfiguration

Third years and above have the ability to enroll in additional classes, including the following:

  • Ancient Runes
  • Arithmancy
  • Care of Magical Creatures
  • Divination
  • Muggle Studies

Now, to be fair, these classes are for the most part well taught and contain sufficiently challenging work. Thus, my problem is not with any of those classes. Also, we are not given the chance to examine some of the classes that are not discussed in-depth in the book (such as Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Astronomy, and Muggle Studies). However, a fair number of classes, including Care of Magical Creatures, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Divination are so poorly taught and conducted that it would seem that legal action on the part of parents would be called for.

For example, in the Care of Magical Creatures class, which is taught by the lovable but completely inept Hagrid, the coursework is both stagnant (they seem to only study a couple of different creatures per year) and shallow (they learn only the most basic of factoids and care techniques about those animals). Additionally, Hagrid does not seem to know enough of the subject to teach it correctly (for a great example, see the case of the Skrewts, which he was not able to properly contain, feed or house). And although Harry, Hermione, and Ron have taken this class for three years, it is extremely doubtful as to whether they would be able to provide even the most basic of care to the simplest of magical creatures.

For another example, look at the history of coursework given to Hogwarts students in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class. In the first year, lessons are said to “be a bit of a joke” (134). In their second year, when Professor Lockhart was teaching the class, he “read passages from his books to them, and sometimes reenacted some of the most dramatic bits.” In their third year, the class was taught by Professor Lupin. Although he was admittedly a wonderful teacher, by the end of the year, they had only learned to deal with a tiny number of Dark creatures and not much else. In their fifth year, with Professor Umbridge, they learned almost nothing – although this was certainly not the fault of the school. For proof of how little the students have learned in this class, one need only to read the section in Goblet of Fire in which Harry is forced to duel with Lord Voldemort. Although he is determined to do his best, the only spell he can bring to his defense is the primitive Disarming Spell and the Summoning Charm. (He also uses the Impediment Jinx, but this was learned on his own time as preparation for the Triwizard Tournament.) Surely a fourth year who has completed more than half of his magical education should be able to come up with more than that!

And finally, let us take a brief look at the study of Divination. As has been repeatedly proven, this class is a waste of time, taught by a woman who pretends to have much more skill than she possesses. However, why is this necessarily the case? It has since been seen that the centaur Firenze is a very able teacher of Divination, so surely, it would have been preferable to hire an abler teacher to teach the subject rather than letting Divination continue in its present state. In case one wishes to argue that Dumbledore hired Professor Trelawney to keep her safe from Lord Voldemort, I would add firstly that it is not necessary to make a person a professor to keep her safe (a Secret-Keeper could do that), and secondarily that Hogwarts is by no means an impregnable fortress of safety, as has been seen many times. Again, it seems that the time Harry, Hermione, and Ron spent in this class was entirely wasted.

Several other issues should be briefly noted: First of all, it is a cause for concern that the manner of testing of the students is entirely lackadaisical and disorganized, as well as infrequent. In the first year, Harry is allowed to skip his exams because he is in the hospital wing. In the second year, exams are canceled for the whole school due to the circumstances. In the third year, he finally sits his exams, but some of them are so ridiculously easy that they may as well have been canceled (for example, in Care of Magical Creatures, the exam only required the students to observe a flobberworm for the space of one hour). In the fourth year, Harry is allowed to skip his exams so that he can prepare for the Triwizard Tasks (is this really necessary?). In the fifth year, Harry has his OWL exams, the first set of exams that seem reasonably challenging, and exams are “postponed” in the sixth year and never mentioned again. Come on, people! This is perfectly ridiculous. Postponing exams is one thing – canceling them at regular intervals, either for entire classes or for individual students, is quite another thing and is a matter of complete negligence on the part of the teachers.

Secondly, on a slightly different note, one must ask why students of magic are allowed to skip out on subjects that Muggle students study and that are extremely necessary for living in the real world: mathematics, literature, science, Muggle history, physical education, and other courses. One can argue endlessly that magical innovations make such subjects unnecessary for witches and wizards, but a little common sense will prove otherwise. One needs to be able to do basic mathematics and know basic science to live in the real world, and one needs a basic knowledge of Muggle society to be able to live with Muggle neighbors and be informed about what is going on in the world. Witches and wizards, as a tiny, tiny minority of the general population, cannot afford to be informed about only their specialized areas of learning and be ignorant about everything else that affects the general population.

It takes only some slight thought to realize that the students that Hogwarts turns out into the world are going to be hardly able to function within society – wizarding or Muggle. They are kept ignorant of everything needed to live with Muggles, and they are so poorly educated in their own magical subjects that they will have a lot of catch-up work to do to live with magical people.

Whose fault are these glaring oversights? The fault naturally comes to rest on the Headmaster, and one cannot deny that Dumbledore has been greatly at fault in letting imbecilic and inept teachers have charge over various classes with little or no interference on his part. Perhaps Dumbledore has been too involved in his cosmic missions of saving the world and too little involved in the charge he has been given as Headmaster. Also, the fault must also lie with the Ministry of Magic, whose employees must have some sort of say with the quality of education. Whosever’s fault it is, however, it would behoove the magical community to focus more on the quality of their children’s education so that Western Europe does not become the laughingstock of the worldwide magical community – and so that Harry has even a fighting chance when he next meets Lord Voldemort.