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Posted at 11:01 AM ET, 11/19/2010

Was Harry Potter's Hogwarts education any good?

By Valerie Strauss

How well would Harry Potter do on the SAT? The question has been raised by a Harvard research fellow about just how fine an education Harry Potter and his friends received at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Samuel Arbesman, research fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, wrote on his blog:

“When it comes to the world of Harry Potter, no doubt many children think the idea of learning witchcraft and wizardry at Hogwarts seems wonderful. Unfortunately, the magical world of education in J.K. Rowling’s books is terribly broken.....

“At Hogwarts, while they learn about spells and potions, they completely neglect the fundamentals. They are made to write essays on the history of magic but are never taught to write. They take Arithmancy, but never learn mathematics.”

I beg to differ.

The array of Hogwarts courses -- required and elective (below) -- has a creative breadth not seen in many a school here in the No Child Left Behind era, in which curriculum has been so drastically narrowed that a lot of kids don’t get much history, science or physical education.

There is, too, an enormous amount of experiential learning. Research shows that's the best kind, especially in science, a subject that Hogwarts students are exposed to in various ways.

They learn chemistry in Potions class, biology in Herbology and
a form of criminology in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class.
Third-year students learn about the development of animals in Care of Magical Creatures while charged with caring for them. The hands-on learning opportunities are endless.

Art and music are offered, too, and kids get plenty of exercise just walking from class to class up and down the staircases in the enormous castle.

As for Arithmancy, while it may seem like a silly fortune-telling class, it involves complex numbers charts and is Hermione Granger’s favorite. Hermione is a brain, so it must offer a strong intellectual challenge.

Another Hogwarts plus: Teachers show great creativity in their classroom exams. In Charms class, one exam required students to make a pineapple dance across the desk.

Hogwarts offers kids frequent opportunities to form and exercise judgment on a range of issues. Character education that goes way beyond big school banners that say “Respect yourself and others.” Should I, Hogwarts students had to ask, secretly join “Dumbledore’s Army” to fight evil and risk expulsion or worse? Make the wrong judgment at Hogwarts, and you can die. Now THAT'S a consequence.

Harry was treated to the valuable lesson that sometimes you have to pay mightily for doing the right thing, as he learned through detentions that he unfairly received, especially the one from Dolores Umbridge, who used magic to carve the words “I must not tell lies” into Harry’s hand.

Students enter Hogwarts at age 11, which is essentially equivalent to a secondary school in the British education system. Hogwarts founder and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling explained this when answering questions from kids for Scholastic, the publisher of her books:

Kai: Where do wizarding children go to school before Hogwarts?
JKR: They can either go to a Muggle primary school, or they are educated at home. The Weasleys were taught by Mrs. Weasley.

Hermione, not born a wizard, went to a regular, or Muggle, primary school, as did Harry and his cousin Dudley Dursley.

Based on all of this, surely Harry and Hermione, though, perhaps, not Ron, would ace any test an American school could throw at them.

These are the core courses at Hogwarts, as listed on (Harry Potter wiki):

Defense Against the Dark Arts (Just Dark Arts in the 1997–1998 school year)
History of Magic
Flying (First years only)


Study of Ancient Runes
Muggle Studies (Core class in the 1997–1998 school year)
Care of Magical Creatures
Apparition (Sixth year, those of age only)

Extracurricular subjects:

Ancient Studies
Muggle Art
Muggle Music
Ghoul Studies

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 19, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Tags:  arithmancy, charms, dudley dursley, harry potter, harvard, herbology, hermione granger, hogwarts, hogwarts school, j.k. rowling, nclb, no child left behind, potions, ron weasley  
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"There is, too, an enormous amount of experiential learning. Research shows that's the best kind..."

First, I love when people say "research shows" and in support of something that the research doesn't show.

Second, what research are you citing?

Third, if you are claiming that "research shows" experiential learning is best, then why does "research show" experiential learning more times than not fails dramatically?

Posted by: AJGuzzaldo | November 19, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

There are only six more days until another big newspeg--Thanksgiving.

Which means there is still time to round up a study on the value-added turkeymetric of various kinds of stuffing, or a blog post on whether it's possible to make a good pie out of a bad pumpkin.

Posted by: gardyloo | November 19, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Valerie: There is something mentally wrong with you.

Posted by: teacher6402 | November 19, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Harry Potter is fiction, fer cryin' out loud! of course, Rowlwing shows the fun parts of the Hogwarts curriculum, and doesn't show what (in the real world) would have to accopany it.

Posted by: jane100000 | November 20, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

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