What’s one big objection to the reality crafted by the Harry Potter books? How about the fact that so many kids are so bored by learning magic? Putting ourselves in their place, it makes no sense. Wouldn’t anyone be thrilled to gain magical powers just by studying? Instead, there are pages of complaint and annoyance with the burden of school. Even magic-deprived Harry balks at the hours of research and practice assigned every day. But this is neither a flaw in J.K. Rowling’s characterizations, nor merely a convenient device to add relatability or to set studious Hermione apart. It’s a perceptive rendering of schoolkids and their education.We see kids that really should be excited to learn, and are reminded of that same truth about kids in the real world.
Project-based learning and interest level. Harry and his two best friends seem like the perfect fictional case study for the effectiveness of project-based learning. While Hermione maintains, often correctly, that they will someday need the knowledge their teachers try to impart, Ron and Harry only really apply themselves with her same fervor when tackling a topic they feel is immediately relevant. Projects really have a magical effect on interest level. But there’s a distinction between one-off activities and project-based learning. The three wizard friends have to provide themselves with the instructional support, time for extended study, and trial-and-error experiences that make project-based learning so rewarding, but non-fictional teachers have the real opportunity to provide this structure and show students that exciting learning doesn’t just happen within stories and without classrooms.
Memorization. In the Harry Potter books, learning magic appears comparable to mastering elocution. Spells are series of words delivered with the conviction of proper usage behind them (along with the right wand movements). So it seems practical that Hogwarts students have a lot of memorization to do. But to really assimilate the words, it would be more efficient for kids to hear and practice spells from an even earlier age. (Too bad about the rules against that, then.) But as for vocabulary, kids do gain an advantage the earlier they hear and engage with rich language. A specific vocabulary component can help catch up and reinforce competency, and may indeed be helpful prep for standardized tests. But perhaps the best approach to develop comprehensive, language skills is early reading exposure and practice.
Comfort and care. Despite the demands of life at Hogwarts, it is clear that students there all love the school. One of the most important reasons, besides the opportunity to eat vast meals and play airborne inter-murals with their peers, is the fact that they are known not by numbers but by names and their individualities. Dumbledore, as headmaster, is the lead example for this atmosphere, knowing and caring for his many charges. While it is a feat helped by the ability to change the flow of time, recall any memory, and magically enhance communication and perception, it is not otherwise impossible. Luckily not, because a caring environment is important to learning. Rowling not only illustrates this directly, but also in contrasting tones. Despite existing in mortal peril, Harry does well and enjoys school each year — until someone (namely, Dolores Umbridge) comes along to level a bureaucracy at him intended only to force compliance.
A good fantasy has enough consistent structure for us to map our own world onto it. An even better fiction has rich layers of details within its world, and Harry Potter is one that even takes place alongside our own. So these school comparisons are just a few kernels of truth within one sector of a whole fictional world — maybe a fun one to revisit over the summer?