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