Opinion
Reading & Literacy Opinion

No Wizard Left Behind

By Arthur E. Levine — November 08, 2005 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

—Gregory Ferrard

BRIC ARCHIVE

I just read the latest Harry Potter book and, quite frankly, I was shocked. The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which Harry and his friends attend, is a disaster. It is the most troubled and dangerous school I have ever heard of. Students and staff are routinely murdered, and the rates are rising. Yet Hogwarts requires students to bring potentially lethal weapons to campus. A wand in the wrong hands can be much more dangerous than a gun or knife. As if this were not enough, students are actually taught in their classes how to make potions and cast spells that can injure or even kill people—and these things, which happen all the time, tend to be treated comically. Not to mention that a megalomaniacal killer named Voldemort stalks the campus, and flesh-eating magical animals wander around the storyline, too.

What’s worse is that Hogwarts actually encourages this culture of violence. It divides the student body into four dormitories, or houses, and makes them compete, one against the other, for points that are arbitrarily awarded or deducted on the basis of the academic and social performance of the entire dorm and its individual members. To earn points, students are forced to engage in high-risk activities such as Quidditch, a game in which they must fly high above the school on brooms—without safety belts—while being chased by “beaters.” The bullying and stereotyping wrought by this system should come as no surprise to anyone.

As for the Hogwarts faculty, its members lack all traditional credentials. Teachers are uncertified and unlicensed. They are not graduates of teacher-preparation programs. They are known to teach outside their fields of expertise and to fake their credentials. They are kept on in spite of being incompetent and engaging in inappropriate relationships with students—such as trying to kill them.

The curriculum can be generously described as narrowly vocational. Students exclusively study utilitarian subjects related to magic. Expectations are low. There is absolutely no talk of post-Hogwarts attendance at the university—even though it is well known that admission to Harvardwarts or Columbiawarts doesn’t happen by accident.

The objection that Harry Potter is “just a book” is entirely beside the point. The possibility that Hogwarts would be permitted to operate under these conditions is absurd. For the past several decades, both Britain and the United States have been through national school reform movements that have sought to raise student achievement and close failing schools. The author of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, is ignoring the inevitable public outcry against Hogwarts that would result from its horrendous conditions. Conservatives and liberals alike would be hopping mad and would demand government action.

The objection that Harry Potter is “just a book” is entirely beside the point. The possibility that Hogwarts would be permitted to operate under these conditions is absurd.

Conservatives would demand accountability in the form of uniform promotion and graduation standards and rigorous testing. They would denounce Hogwarts’ curriculum and lack of concern with Western culture and great works of literature. True, they would applaud the school’s rejection of “burdensome and unnecessary” teacher credentialing and education school study requirements—but the on-campus violence would tie them in ideological knots. Certainly they would demand metal detectors and police on campus, but would be likely to balk at wand control. The NWA (National Wand Association) would be a force to reckon with here, as well.

As for liberals, they would be furious at how Hogwarts’ “one size fits all” educational approach ignores student differences in gender, ethnicity, disability, and cultural breeding. They would be appalled at the quality of the Hogwarts faculty, calling for accreditation of teacher education programs, the development of rigorous Ministry of Magic licensure requirements, and the adoption of professional teaching standards.

They, too, would roundly condemn the hostile environment at Hogwarts, but would likely call for an end to classes on potions and spells; the closing of the four houses; and the elimination of Quidditch and other dangerous extracurricular activities. Immediate professional development for faculty and staff, as well as therapy for students, would be seen as imperative.

The utilitarian curriculum—conjuring, as it does, images of tracking and vocational education—would also give liberals fits. There are too many potential remedies here even to contemplate.

Bottom line: Author Rowling cannot continue to close her eyes to the educational horrors at Hogwarts. In her next volume, she needs to acknowledge both the disastrous conditions and the explosive politics surrounding them. She should begin the next Harry Potter book by announcing nothing less than the adoption of a sweeping schoolwide reform program. In the spirit of bipartisanship, this reader humbly suggests that it might be called No Wizard Left Behind. It’s a simple, powerful idea that all of us can rally behind.

Of course, at Hogwarts, the devil may truly be in the details.

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as No Wizard Left Behind

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Helping Students Make the Shift From Learning to Read to Reading to Learn
By the end of third grade, students are expected to know how to read so they can begin reading to learn. But what about students who miss ...
Content provided by Lexia Learning
Reading & Literacy Opinion Lucy Calkins Revisits and Revises Her Reading Curriculum
Yes, learning to read takes phonics—but also a whole lot more, writes the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project founder.
Lucy Calkins
4 min read
Illustration of book and gears.
Getty