A critique of educational practice at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
By Cayt Mirra
Don’t get me wrong, I would give anything to go to Hogwarts. Harry Potter is life. But as an educator, every time I read the series (I’ve read it a lot of times, guys) I can’t help but see more and more ways that the school is failing its students.
The teachers at Hogwarts are, for the most part, negligent. The most obvious is Snape, with his blatant bullying of countless students. Instead of modelling respectful relationships, Snape humiliates students and holds petty grudges. Professor Binns completely ignores all of the research on flipped learning and instead drones on endlessly. Hattie tells us to ‘know thy impact’, but Binns has no idea that half of his students are asleep. And don’t get me started on Hagrid. Even if he could meet the professional teaching standards, like maintaining safe learning environments, it wouldn’t matter because he is not a qualified teacher. In fact, the novels do not mention tertiary institutions at all – Tom Riddle certainly expects to get a job teaching after working in retail, and Lockhart, as well as being completely incompetent as a wizard, seems also to be an author by trade and not a trained teacher. Then, of course, there is professor Trelawney, who is more concerned with her own ego, and has probably never designed an assessment rubric in her life. Nobody seems to be differentiating learning and as a result the students are not being given work within their zone of proximal development. The ministry of magic, rather than enforce educational standards, seems to think the way to improve education is to interfere with meaningless policy and testing, providing Umbridge as some kind of human embodiment of NAPLAN.
Hogwarts fails to provide a safe environment for students, repeatedly neglecting duty of care and mandatory reporting regulations. Not only are students exposed to all sorts of dangerous substances and creatures, but they are made to walk, unsupervised, through the forbidden forest, as part of detention. Despite needing a permission form to go to Hogsmeade, it seems perfectly fine for students to compete in a tournament that sees them facing dragons and possible drowning, without parental consent. If Hogwarts even has an OH&S officer, then there was a serious oversight when they approved the planting of the whomping willow.
Dumbledore’s leadership is compromised by his emotions. He is either unaware of the danger his students are in, or chooses to let it happen in the name of learning. Under his watch, staff are not held to account for their actions, exams are cancelled for no reason, house points are awarded with extreme bias in a way that undermines the entire system, and every year students are seriously injured. Several teachers are employed who are working for Voldemort, including one who literally has Voldemort attached to his head. Teachers are using unforgivable curses in the classroom, and using magic to physically torture students. Dumbledore clearly needs to be doing classroom walkthroughs, or at the very least should employ a learning specialist to do this for him. Ultimately, he is not primarily interested in education. The school is a vehicle for his quest to defeat Voldemort.
As educators, we often feel as if we are drowning in meetings, but in all seven books we never once see any indication that the teachers are collaborating. They seem to work entirely in isolation. Perhaps if the staff were to employ some team teaching, or form a PLT, then they might be able to improve learning outcomes. Formative feedback to students seems negligible, aside from letter grades that arrive by owl. Don’t the staff realise that feedback has a .75 effect size? At this rate, none of them will be able to complete their professional learning plans.
The extra-curricular life of the school is problematic. The house system is overused – instead of creating connectedness to the school it breeds hostility and segregation. By failing to agree on some core values of the school, the founders have failed the students. Surely they could have combined the values of the houses to create a school motto: Bravery, Intelligence, Fairness and Ambition, or BIFA if you need a handy acronym to remember it. Speaking of acronyms, let’s talk about Hermione’s attempts to form SPEW. This is a young girl who is fighting for the rights of the oppressed, and she is discouraged and ridiculed, even by the teachers. Hermione is the sort of student who would thrive on extra-curricular activities. She would be the debating captain, the SRC leader, the library helper. But she does not have any of these opportunities. She even has to resort to forming the DA to make up for the things she is not learning in class. Unless you are on the Quidditch team, or in the Runes Club, there are really no ways to get involved in the school outside of classes.
It’s easy to criticise. If we hold Hogwarts up to the various standards we have been told are important in teaching, it fails on almost all accounts. But does that mean that it fails as a learning institution? Well, maybe not. They certainly seem to have created a culture in which the students are striving to achieve. True, the subject matter is arguably more engaging than things covered in a regular school setting, but the work often still seems to be academically challenging. Do the students learn? Absolutely. They are engaged, in a way that many students in regular schools are not, in the magic of learning.