August “Quibbler” Contest winner: Accio learning!

This editorial is the winning entry for the “Hogwarts Education” contest. 

by Nadia Mulvihill

Ah, Hogwarts. The many-turreted silhouette and the bright and crowded Great Hall stir up warm and fuzzy feelings for our fandom. But is a magical education enough for its students? Does it prepare students for successful careers and personal futures?

Absolutely it does. Magic is to the wizarding world as technology is to the Muggle world. Magic is a means of making life easier, but it also creates new problems that require more magic skills to fix. It is an inconvenience to one’s daily life to lack magical skills. It makes you an outsider. A Muggle school that utilized computer technology for every student in most classes, that produced inventive programmers, skilled repairers, and informed consumers would be considered a great success. The purpose of Hogwarts is to prepare students to navigate the adult wizarding world. A practical magic curriculum, with hands-on experience, is the best way to do that.  Hogwarts is a good school because it prepares students for their futures through practical experience.

I have organized Hogwarts’s classes by their purposes. Magic (and technology) benefits you in three main ways: adds convenience to your life, protects you from harm, and prepares you for a career. Some classes are more obvious (DADA is meant for protection) and some were more difficult to categorize (can you be a professional transfigurer?). My system is subjective, of course. Any of these classes could contribute somewhat to any of the categories, but I tried to focus on the primary purpose first, then only a close secondary purpose.

The Purposes of Hogwarts Classes
Class Convenience Protection Career
Defense Against the Dark Arts P
Charms P S
Potions P S
Transfiguration P S
Divination P
Muggle Studies* S P
Care of Magical Creatures S P
Herbology S P
Ancient Runes P
Arithmancy P
Astronomy P
History of Magic* P

P = primary purpose of the class

S = secondary purpose of the class

* = a theory-based class

It is important to notice that only two of Hogwarts classes are theory-based: History of Magic and Muggle Studies (and sometimes DADA, but everybody hated that). Hogwarts classes are hands-on because you need experience to prepare for a career and you need experience to improve a skill. Defense Against the Dark Arts is crucial for students to protect themselves and others when magic goes wrong. It is most effective when students can practice it themselves, like with Lupin or with Harry in Dumbledore’s Army. Charms, Potions, and Transfiguration are the most hands-on classes, with observable skills. Potions is essentially a lab class, so students learn hands on how to make potions. Students physically complete every step of the process from raw materials, including the tedious labor of cutting up ingredients, which is more than what I’m capable of doing on Pottermore. Students learn the most from what they do, not from reading about it or watching someone else do it. Divination is more for personal interest than protection or career training. But it is all practical—students read real tea leaves and real crystal balls—because Trelawney was either a true seer or a staunch believer. Students usually don’t bother with doing well in (or even taking) Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Astronomy, CoMC, Herbology, History of Magic, and Muggle Studies unless they are interested in those careers. Since the OWL and NEWT exams directly affect which career paths are open to students, you can bet that the professors are well-connected to those industries outside of Hogwarts.

A common criticism of Hogwarts is that it lacks basic core subjects like English and Math. However, even though students don’t analyze novels and study grammar, they are absolutely learning literacy skills. The United States is beginning to adopt new national education standards, called The Common Core. The implementation of these standards have mixed reviews, but one aspect of the Standards that is consistently praised is literacy across the contents. This means that all teachers are responsible for developing students’ reading and writing skills, not just English teachers. Students are expected to transfer their reading and writing skills to all types of reading, with a focus on non-fiction texts that they will encounter in higher education. Hogwarts follows this model of literacy instruction. Students read and write for every class, in increasing quantity and difficulty as they advance in school. They learn how to read and write through other subjects. Maybe they don’t analyze fictional characters, but they certainly draw conclusions about the practice of magic through the patterns in the behavior of the non-fiction people they read about. Wendelin the Weird strikes Harry as significant for his paper on the pointlessness of witch burning (PoA 1). Guess what? Harry just analyzed her character and applied it to his learning. Maybe students at Hogwarts don’t learn what a thesis is, but they certainly write theses and support them with facts, and they are graded based on the quality of such writing. The other “missing” subject from Hogwarts is Math. Math is a core subject because of what it can be applied to—students rarely go on to study pure mathematics, but physics or chemistry or computer science, which have practical real-world purposes. The closest thing that Hogwarts has to math is Arithmancy, because that is the only way that math applies to a career in the wizarding world—possibly the Muggle equivalent would be a research scientist.

The academics at Hogwarts are certainly applicable to students’ futures, but how do the students perform? Hogwarts students are highly motivated; even Fred and George “scrape a handful of O.W.L.s each” (PoA 430). There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is when you will do something because you will be rewarded for it. Intrinsic motivation is when you do something because you will feel satisfied about it. Students are extrinsically motivated by the learning culture of their peers, the high-stakes exams, the desire for daily convenience, to protect themselves, and to prepare for their careers. The imagery of students studying late into the night and having breakdowns before exams is usually associated with competitive, top-notch universities, not a school for 11-17 year olds. There is a cultural norm of academic success at Hogwarts, which is why it was so scandalous when Fred and George left, and why it was so devastating when students left during the war. The culture of learning is strong among professors, too. Besides the DADA instructors, Hogwarts professors are there to stay and have unwavering enthusiasm and high standards for their subjects.

Hogwarts students are intrinsically motivated by their pride in the identity of being a witch or wizard. First years are excited to join the magical community—whether they are completely new to it (Muggleborn) or have been itching to participate with their families. Hogwarts students go to school to learn magic. Muggle students go to school to learn … what they need to know. Which is subjective in the wide world of Muggles. Ask a Hogwarts student what they did in school today, and it won’t be a bored sigh of “Nothing,” but a description of working with their hands. A student who moved objects with a powerful wand or spent 20 minutes dicing up lacewing flies is not going to easily forget it. Being a student at Hogwarts is an identity which is reinforced every time a student feels a purpose in their hands-on work.

  • Ana Melo

    I do agree fully if weren’t for some missing details that makes it even better, I think maths is applicable here, just not the same way as the muggle world, for example, Potions requires mathematics skills, Transfiguration is one of the most scientific subjects(there is even a magazine dedicated to it like those science magazines), requires understanding formulas and the sort and very hard and Alchemy and Astronomy, etc.
    between the books you have to buy for Hogwarts , some caught my attention, such as Magical Theory (it’s probably the most used book in most classes such Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, DADA , Ancient Runes, Aritmancy, Alchemy and Ancient Magic).
    One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi (probably commonly used in Herbology and Potions), one book being used for 2 subjects.
    It’s very complex nonetheless.
    You see maths being constantly being applied, they use maths with practical and theorical approach.

  • Iain Walker

    You make some very good points about the strengths of Hogwarts education, but I’m afraid I disagree with your conclusion that overall Hogwarts is a good school. Your article seems to assume a very limited technocratic, vocationalist idea of what constitutes a “good” education, which strikes me as being short-sighted at best and philistine at worst. By any other standard, the education received at Hogwarts is alarmingly inadequate.

    The lack of any systematic grounding in English and maths can’t just be handwaved by saying that students practice these in other subjects. It means that their education in these subjects is piecemeal and ad hoc, with no coverage of underlying and unifying principles. Citing the US Common Core Curriculum is misleading, since (as I understand it) schools offering the curriculum still have specific maths and English classes, while Hogwarts has none at all. Meanwhile, in Muggle Britain, standards of literacy and numeracy in British schools are an ongoing concern to educationalists, and any school which failed to devote classes to these subjects would be on the receiving end of damning OFSTED reports and would almost certainly have its government funding withdrawn.

    Also, your implication that maths can be neglected because it’s only good for things like the sciences or computing is frankly bizarre, and would horrify any educationalist. Maths is an important skill in many everyday situations (e.g., I imagine Molly Weasley is a very good accountant, if self-taught out of necessity) and in many non-science and non-computing careers (e.g., even magical architects and builders need to understand geometry). That’s why it’s almost universally been identified as a core part of any educational system ever since the ancient Greeks.

    Let’s look at what else the Hogwarts curriculum leaves out. No geography. No foreign languages. No Classics or ancient languages (except, presumably, pictogram-based written languages in Ancient Runes). No philosophy or critical thinking classes. No sex education. And no literature, music, drama or art – the Hogwarts curriculum is severely culturally impoverished (which may help explain why wizarding culture seems so derivative of Muggle culture – their educational system encourages neither cultural engagement nor cultural innovation). And what about the breadth of the subjects that are taught? Biological studies are limited to magical plants, the care of magical creatures, and how to defend oneself from Dark creatures. There’s no indication that broader biological principles are taught, that would allow them to understand how the living world actually works. Likewise for the other sciences (other than Astronomy). Hogwarts pupils learn only about the magical part of reality, despite the fact that they live in a world that works according to non-magical principles as well.

    And then there’s Muggle Studies – instead of being a compulsory core subject from Year 1 onwards, it’s a mere optional subject, taught from Year 3. Thus allowing the majority of non-Muggleborn students to remain blissfully ignorant of how the other 99.999% (approx.) of humanity live and helping to perpetuate the insular, narrow-minded culture that allows Voldemorts and Umbridges to flourish.

    On which note, the quality of teaching in certain key subjects at Hogwarts may also be detrimental to wizarding society. Binns is an absolutely dreadful teacher who turns off all but the most dedicated students from the study of magical history. If those who fail to learn (from) history are condemned to repeat it, then this explains a lot about wizarding society in the 20th century. Why Binns hasn’t been exorcised I do not know, although Rowling tells us that Dumbledore thinks that students can still learn valuable life lessons from being exposed to mean teachers (Snape) and incompetent ones (Lockhart). Maybe the list includes boring teachers as well, although frankly this makes Dumbledore look like a lousy educationalist, if he thinks that educational standards can be so easily sacrificed for whimsical moral lessons that could just as well be learned elsewhere.

    tl;dr? Short version then: The Hogwarts curriculum is indeed challenging and hands-on, but it is absurdly and unnecessarily narrow, and while it may equip pupils to be competent practitioners of magic, it does not equip them intellectually to understand or constructively engage with the wider world around them. Hermione may have missed a trick in concentrating her reformist efforts at the Ministry, because many of wizarding society’s problems are rooted in its flawed educational system. I.e., in Hogwarts itself.