Harry Potter Making Magic in Spite of School

MisEducation’s Mind Field of the Moment
Harry Potter and Hogwarts:
Making Magic in Spite of School

by J.J. Ross, Ed. D.

(Copyright December 2002.)

MisEducation is pleased to report that she discovered Harry Potter before his very first book charmed its way onto a bestseller list for the very first time. She stumbled across a first (American) edition of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in one of her bookshop prowls and read it out loud over many subsequent evenings with her family, savoring every page and marveling at the rare gem they’d been privileged to mine.

Why wasn’t the whole world in love with Harry Potter? (MisEducation has always been ahead of her time, ahem!)

And now that her prescience is fulfilled, now that every human on the planet knows Hogwarts in intimate and thrilling detail, MisEducation has begun to see that the real magic of Harry Potter and Hogwarts lies in what they teach us.

MisEducation surely is not the first to study the creations of J.K. Rowling hoping to divine truth and turn the text to her own purposes. Its Christian spirituality (or demonic curse) has been exhaustively examined as the subject of books, videos, sermons, and censorship protests.

But MisEducation humbly suggests she herself may be the first — of whom she in her cloistered library is aware!– to ponder The World of Potter for real school themes rather than Sunday School themes.

Consider for example these three lessons:

1. What matters in life is learned outside the classroom. Harry learns about family, friends, loyalty, moral choice, courage, learning for its own sake, and the unending challenge of managing one’s special powers and gifts. None of this is taught in Hogwarts’ classrooms or tested on the OWL exams.

2. Individuals are not interchangeable. People cannot be standardized, though we often pretend otherwise. Teaching, parenting, and public service are neither noble nor shields for abusive individuals — they can be anything in between. It all depends on the individual. Some teachers are unsung heroes. But Harry discovers that others are frauds and some are downright dangerous. The best of them are imperfect. No two are the same. (Think Dumbledore, McGonagall and Madame Hooch versus Trelawney, Snape and Quirrell.) Individuals with various power in the school setting, such as Board members, can be shallow, selfish, stupid, or purposely evil. (Think Mr. Crouch of the Ministry of Magic and Draco Malfoy’s father Lucius.)

And sometimes a lumbering Hagrid, lacking credentials or institutional credibility, is the one from whom bright, self-motivated students learn the most.

3. Life isn’t fair, rules are made to be broken, and there’s nothing “magic” about numbers. School grades, test scores, demerits, even Quidditch scores may seem absolute and objective, but in practice can be perverse. There certainly is nothing supernatural about them just because they are awarded in school! At Hogwarts, “house points” are given and taken away in the most shamelessly subjective encounters, usually outside the classroom (where presumably students ought to have some control over their own destiny — the sadistic Hogwarts caretaker Filch creeps around day and night trying to “catch” them for humiliation and punishment).

Professor Snape displays his irrational hatred of Harry at every opportunity, even letting it seep out through every Potions lesson. Thus all his students, from teacher’s pet Hermione to bullying Draco Malfoy, learn how authority figures can manipulate grades and points to serve their own beliefs rather than some objective standard.

There are so many lessons in the Magic of Harry Potter for MisEducation to peruse, but right now she must share what startled her today in (gasp!) the staid old New York Times —

The Muggle World of Real-Life may be just as magical as Hogwarts after all!!

Remember those living, moving portraits like the Gryffindor Fat Lady who demands that students give the day’s password? MisEducation nearly swooned when she read that the Muggles have acquired the power to create these living pictures.  The Times explains:

“What if Leonardo DiCaprio could stare out from a wall and wink at passers-by? What if, rather than being frozen on a poster for the latest James Bond movie, Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry could leap in a full-motion, fist-flying fury to a stereo soundtrack? And what if these posters could interact with film patrons, recognizing their tastes and quickly matching their interests with trailers and show times for movies that they most likely want to see?

For the last five years Stephan Fitch and his company, Thinking Pictures, have been quietly working to recast movie posters with precisely those capabilities and more. “Our view is that this is a window into the lobby for the studios to take advantage of,” said Mr. Fitch, the 42-year-old founder and chief executive of the company, which is based in New York.”

“…the displays were a “win-win-win proposition” for studios that received information about moviegoers’ interests, for exhibitors that shared in the ad revenue and for movie patrons who were informed and entertained by the posters. Bonnie Curtis, one of the producers of “Minority Report,” . . .when told about Mr. Fitch’s displays, . . .called them “fantastic.” “There is no telling where technology is going to take us.” One possibility, she added with a chuckle, might be posters so interactive that they call out to prospective moviegoers in the voice of a film’s director, like Mr. Spielberg.”

When she regained her composure, MisEducation was forced to acknowledge that she was actually upset due to her realization that public schools are even further behind the Magic Curve than she had believed.

Oh my! (fluttering and fanning herself in a ladylike but vigorous fashion) MisEducation has always preferred the inspiring and deeply personal magic of theatres and libraries to the curriculum of the typical classroom, and this amazing news suggests that once again, she is ahead of her time in recognizing the Real Magic all around us.

Even as the public schools fade into obscurity, it won’t be because they suffered in comparison to Hogwarts but because they couldn’t even use the available Muggle magic to sufficient advantage. MisEducation will rely on the knowledge that Muggle parents everywhere are awakening to their own magical powers and will no longer be under the spell of a decaying system.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, 1997, Scholastic Press.
Official summary: Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Other published titles in the series to date include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Movie Posters That Talk Back by Michel Marriott
December 12, 2002

4 responses

6 08 2010

More Harry Potter books were published and MisEducation found a new home here, retiring the old homeplace but not her keen interest in Potter as parable.

See also School Rule from “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” to the New Harry Potter Movie:

I suggest we try a little spell of our own and see where it takes us.

Suppose (before you reject them as villains out of hand) that the ideological rule of Professor Fish and the Ministry of Magic under Umbridge were to prevail in America today. Can we use our own individual powers to divine the resulting future, sense what this could mean and how things might change, maybe even progress as well as devolve?

Push in here and see the bulge over there — that’s not magic, that’s science! 🙂

Might it unexpectedly solve some problems, for society to spell out this clear and clearly harsh view of “schooling” as an authoritarian environment, exactly like the military and prison, and so unlike the good magic of natural learning and liberal education?

I wonder if by the time we get to the surprise ending, this plot might even serve “home-schooling” well, for all school to be equated with unilateral discipline and unchecked power:

“That enterprise is not named democracy and what goes on within it – unless it is abuse or harassment or assault – should not rise to the level of constitutional notice. . .”

Parents were literally ignorant of everything being done in “their” world, thus impotent despite all their supposed individual powers, far away from the too-real World of School and being lied to by the government-corrupted press, alternately stirred up and soothed by the sly and irresponsible Rita Skeeter.

So Hogwarts students and teachers were spellbound not by Black Magic but by perfectly ordinary, unmagical community rules and institutional school.

They could only save themselves, their educational enterprise and even their clueless families back home, when Dolores Umbridge was finally seen stripped of the polite fiction, standing in stark relief as the Corruption of Power she represented in the very real world, when they finally understood that people couldn’t just go along to get along anymore. When they were finally “forced to choose.”

What if that happened to this enterprise we muggles call School? *************

and For the Love of God, Bless Harry Potter and My Home Sweet Home:

Our best entertainers and artists in any era help us conjure our own Patronus against the universally human fear of the dark. In the same brilliant way and with the same multicultural savvy as Irving Berlin, JK Rowling has written for our times, about terrorism and world war, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, good versus evil, the corruption of power and the will to resist it for something larger than ourselves.

Love. Overcoming. All.
Not likely anyone’s god would frown on that. . .

Her transcendent theme for our age may be neither witchcraft worship nor divine self-sacrifice, so much as the the ultimate terrorists, the amoral dementors (like this fellow in Daryl’s newspaper??) ready to suck all hope and happiness from us and — if we aren’t strong enough to resist — destroy the human soul itself. . .

and Harry Potter and Real-World Unforgiveable Curses:

Each generation must re-create the rule of law for itself. . .

“Literature shapes law . . .For millions of readers, especially younger readers, the legal regime of Harry’s world will form expectations about legal regimes in Mugglespace” . . .

9 09 2010
Consider “Parental Rights” in Light of Friendly Atheist Advice to 14-Year-Old « Cocking A Snook!

[…] and fanning herself in a ladylike but vigorous fashion) MisEducation has always preferred the inspiring and deeply personal magic of theatres and libraries to the curriculum of the typical classroom, and this amazing news suggests that once again, she is […]

18 11 2010
Power of Story Can Change the World « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Oh sure, the usual ancient stories and myths of course — and here we go fighting about the meaning of Christmas again — but wasn’t the world-changing power of old religious stories most potent in their own real-world time? We don’t call “currency” that for nothing. What are world-changing power of stories in our time, in this world? MisEducation humbly suggests she herself may be the first — of whom she in her cloistered library is aware!– to ponder The World of Potter for real school themes rather than Sunday School themes. […]

22 03 2011
Harry Potter: We Better Believe It’s Real « Cocking A Snook!

[…] things have been put away — this time there is no quidditch, no school uniforms, no schoolboy crushes or classroom pranks — and adult supervision has all but vanished. . . . Harry and his companions must rely . . . […]

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