Tuesday, March 22, 2016
#WeirdEd Week 99- Harry Potter
How could we have never done a Harry Potter chat before now? It's custom built for #WeirdEd. It's deeply nerdy, based on both books and movies, incredibly well-crafted, good for kids and adults, joyful as all get out, AND the main characters are either students or teachers.
Every time I rewatch the Potter movies (I haven't re-read them in a long time, I should) the thing that stands out to me more than anything else is how much I want to talk to JK Rowling about education. She had to build an entire school in order for these stories to work. The school didn't have to be perfect and if you want to be The Person there's a lot to pick apart about Hogwarts and the Magical Education System. I think we're going to get more of that with Magical Creatures and Where to Find Them when that comes out, and Rowling just published some backstory on the American magical society on Pottermore that I haven't read but have heard mixed reviews on. Gotta be careful when wading into Native American magic, Jo.
Rowling's school is the perfect example of project-based learning. She believes the only way for young witches and wizards to learn magic is to be doing magic, and do it they do (what an awkward sentence). Almost immediately students are blowing themselves up, waving wands to and fro, and mispronouncing spells. "Leviosa, not levisosah." My favorite example of this is not Shamus blowing up a feather but during flying lessons. If taken straight, the students are lined up outside castle grounds with brooms, given what amounts to a three sentence lecture on flying, and then told to levitate a broom, mount it, and hover. What is the muggle equivalent of this? Driving lessons, I imagine. There's only so much you can say about driving before you have to get behind the wheel.
Rowling's stance on project-based learning becomes starkly clear when she introduces Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and pink sweater enthusiast Dolores Umbridge (I love than the phonetic umbrage means to take offence, annoyance, or displeasure). What is Prof. Umbridge's defining trait as a teacher? "No wands!" She gets out text books and the students copy lines. How angry does Hermione get? How much do we love her for her rebellion? Umbridge is soon headmistress of Hogwarts, instituting all manner of laws and decrees about education. I'll be honest, I don't know anything about the British educational system, but I can imagine they feel much the same way about this sort of thing that we do over in the colonies. What's striking is that Rowling chooses to show how evil this woman is first by having her destroy Hogwarts by destroying the students' love of learning. Sure, later we find out she's a Death Eater and actually on the side of evil, but before we know that we hate her because she's in the pocket of the government, there for them rather than for the kids. I assume non-teachers (of whom I know none, I'm a teacher and I have no life) also hate Umbridge for similar reasons, but I bet they don't feel it as deeply as we do.
Hogwarts thrives of student failure. Hogwarts also seemingly thrives on a split of lecture and student-directed (but not passion-based) learning. Not in early years. By the end, much like high schools, kids seem to be choosing their course loads based on future goals and interests. Hogwarts ALSO reward/punishment in the form of House Points. Oh, we're not thrilled with the carrot and stick of that, are some of us? Think of the poor Hufflepuffs who never win the House Cup. Poor badgers. Five pity points to Hufflepuff. And Hogwarts is all about the homework. NO, another thing many of us are turning around on. But seriously, wouldn't you practice magic in your spare time? Maybe it's different because the kids are practicing skills they really will be using in real life. We don't see people levitating things all over the place or mixing potions or picking the proper herbs, but we also don't see much magical life outside the Weasley household. (Sidebar: The Weasely parents love their children more than almost any other fictional family I can thing of. [Sidebar sidebar: At the start of Deathly Hallows Hermione erases herself from her parents' memories and never mentions it once. Never brings it up. She's the toughest of the three. Always.]) They also take standardized tests, both NEWTS and OWLS, which I think have muggle equivalents.
There are wonderful professors like McGonagal and Lupin, good ones like Snape (he's got to be a good teacher, even if he's not a nice one) and Flitwick, not so good ones like Hagrid (oh, argue with me) and Trelawney, and downright awful ones like Lockhart and Umbridge. What about Slughorn? He had obvious favorites. How do we feel about him as a teacher?
The Harry Potter series is a modern miracle. The books because it's damn near impossible to write one good book let alone seven that range from excellent to pretty good. And that goes double for movies based on books. Can you even begin to imagine how lucky they got? Every main kid stayed sane, got cuter, became a better actor, and still loves and respects the series. They managed to not fumble the ending, and when the actor playing Dumbledore died they, no offense to the original, upgraded. The whole thing is a miracle. Not to mention JK Rowling basically wrote the next generation's Narnia series. I'm biased, but Potter > Narnia.
Tonight let's visit Hogwarts and figure out our Houses, our favorite classes and professors, what we can learn from the magical education system, if we'd like to teach in the castle, and which student would be the hardest to teach.
(I promise not to mention Dobby, Fred, Tonks, or Sirius if you don't. *sniffle*)