The Harry Potter series has soared from a simple fan favorite to an icon over the course of 20 years. The fans and Rowling have expanded the series with everything from additional reading on Pottermore to quizzes to place yourself in a house. (Ravenclaw represent!) I’m a bit late to the party, as I’ve seen the movies for the first time only a couple of years ago and still reading the books. Rowling’s depiction of what school should be like, her opinions on the issues with the system and the interactions between the students and their teachers is sheer excellence. The books also grow with the reader as the ‘years’ go by, touching more sensitive topics as the reader can handle them.
If her books are any indication, Rowling prefers a hands-on approach to education, which makes perfect sense to me. Personally, I was a good math student, not a great one, though. The problem is, in high school we never applied that to different situations and were rarely encouraged to. The science classes would occasionally strike our interest with an experiment, but it was also raw paperwork most of the time. The Hogwarts curriculum is a healthy mixture of the two styles of teaching. The books make it a point that the students make mistakes, and learn from them, and the classes function the same way. The students will rarely master the spell the first time, as long as they’re adequate in the end of year exams. Rowling lets this belief shine the best when Umbridge is hired and forces the students into an all-paperwork curriculum in an attempt to cripple their practical skills. Personally, I’d swear that the O.W.L. concept is the wizarding world of standardized testing, which Rowling seems to think of as a necessary evil. The students did well enough without the use of the O.W.L.s (though the rigorous preparation could have helped). For instance, both Harry and Ron eventually become Aurors, and of course, Fred and George find success in their joke shop. They put the effort into it, and the rewards show. On the subject of Fred and George, the books make it a point to note that it is useless to attempt complete control over a group of kids. They will break rules. The students will ostracize an individual, often for unfair reasons. Some of the teachers, like McGonagall makes judgments based on the reason for the rule breaking when this happens, but Snape thrives off of waiting for the wrong students to cross the line.
Rowling’s depictions of the students remind me of my high school days. Then again, that’s probably the idea. Several of the students are the type of characters you’ll find in any class. It’s understandable why Rowling chose to use a school setting for the book. She wanted to show that the behaviors of the kids can be largely affected by their backgrounds. My only regret with the book is that she didn’t show that there are exceptions to the rule. There are rich individuals who behave more nicely than Draco, and poor who behave worse than Ron (though in his case, Mundungus could be a counterexample). Of course, the students begin to form groups (aside from the school houses) based on goals and personal interests.
J.K. Rowling makes it clear that a well maintained classroom setting can make or break a child’s potential in the long run, depending on the teacher methods and the quality of the staff. I could write about how Rowling uses spells as a metaphor for the power of creativity and language, but that could take up a blog post in itself. As a final note to those of you who have watched the movies and wish to know more; read the books, you will not regret it! The movies are an abridged version of the story, and even with a retained plot, the books are still interesting to read.