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Reading & Literacy Opinion

No Wizard Left Behind

By Arthur E. Levine — November 08, 2005 4 min read
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—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

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