How Harry Potter Got a Horrible Education at Hogwarts

How many parents, at Harry Potter-heavy moments like the current one, have dreamed of putting their child on the Hogwarts Express and sending them off to wizarding school? Knowing you were sending them to the warm care of Dumbledore and McGonagall would totally take away the guilt of booting them out of the house, right?

Don't do it. It's a wondrous place, but as a school, it really sucks. Their standardized test scores would be terrible.

Expressing a thought I had constantly all 34 times I read through the Potter series, social scientist Samuel Arbesman lays out the academic failings of Hogwarts:  


It’s entirely unclear to me how the children of the wizarding world learn to read and write. There is a reason Hermione seems much more intelligent than Ron Weasley. It’s because Ron is very likely completely uneducated ... at Hogwarts, while they learn about spells and potions, they completely neglect the fundamentals. They are made to write essays on the history of magic, but are never taught to write. They take Arithmancy, but never learn mathematics.

Even Hermione -- who's a Muggle and complete nerd -- took nothing but variations on potions, charms, and runes. She couldn't be troubled to do a little trig?

Perhaps Harry's angry raging at Dumbledore after the death of Sirius Black should have included, "Why the hell didn't you teach us how to freaking read?"

The great link provider Jason Kotke, who pointed out this story, has another thought. He thinks it's all about the Quidditch, the same way so many American schools are basically fronts for football: 

My take is that wizards are jocks, not nerds; Hogwarts is not so much a secondary school as a sports academy.

But of course even some football players get to go on to collegiate scholarships. Outside of a little trade training, there doesn't seem to be much higher education in the wizard world either. Certainly no PhDs in philosophy or calculus. Arbesman's conclusion:

Thanks, J.K. Rowling, it’s okay to have a subculture in England that provides only seven years of education, and then releases their children to the world, completely unprepared for critical thinking in any way. Because, don’t worry, they have flying broomsticks, and can cast spells that make cooking easier.

Of course, like so many of the complaints I had about the Potter books -- the constant blushing of every character, all the pointless adverbs -- this did almost nothing to kill my enjoyment in the end, and certainly did nothing to stop my tears at the end of the last three books.

I've vowed I'm done with the movies after the last two left me so cold. But I'll probably cave on that too.

What do you think of the schools in Harry Potter?


Image via popculturegeek/Flickr

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