Having recently finished rereading Rowling’s series for about the tenth time, I’ve once again fallen in love with her intricate world, her lovable characters, and the sheer brilliance of her writing.
Yet as a teacher, I can’t help but notice some of the issues at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Class sizes and schedules
It’s up for debate as to how many pupils attend Hogwarts. Rowling at one point suggested about 1000 students, but that doesn’t seem likely. Counting the incoming students in Harry’s year suggests about 40 per year (multiplied by 7 years would be around 280). Various mathematical contortions get the numbers to between 250 and 700.
Not a bad size for a school, until some of the logistics rear their ugly heads. Sure, they can maybe all fit on the Hogwarts express, and perhaps the common rooms of each house are large enough to account for 70-140 students.
But what doesn’t work is the number of teachers who work at the school and the average class sizes. Classes that get mentioned every year (and appear to make up the core subjects) are: Charms, History of Magic, Transfiguration, Potions, and Defense against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, Herbology. So the students take 7 core classes for at least 5 years (unless they score high enough on their OWLs). Students can then add Divination, Arithmancy, Muggle Studies, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures after their second year.
The class sizes when two houses have the same subject at the same time must also be massive. If we assume 100 students per year, then that’s a total of 50 Slytherins + Gryffindor’s cramming into Snape’s dungeon.
Who’s teaching all these classes? It seems that there is one teacher for each class. That’s fine for the electives. But how is Professor McGonagall supposed to teach 7 sections of Transfiguration? The daily schedule includes Doubles classes, which probably means a class twice as long but therefore not every day of the week. But that doesn’t solve the time-issue. Or the student-load. Each teacher is supposed to teach almost every student at the school? Even when they drop a class during their 6th or 7th years, that doesn’t fit with a school-size of 700. Perhaps if there are only 250 students, a teacher could feasibly teach each of them every year, but not well.
And how did they ever even consider letting Hermoine have a dangerous device just so she can take more classes? She’s thirteen. No matter how gifted she is, McGonagall and Dumbledore should have known the pressure would get to her. Teaching students to pace themselves, make choices, and focus on a few areas is important.
Reading and Writing
They start school at 11. I guess that works well for having seven years of school for seven books. And it’s a magical number. And yet, what do wizarding kids do until they’re 11? Play quidditch and de-gnome gardens? More importantly, where do they learn to read, write, and do numbers? They surely don’t go to muggle schools, unless they live with a muggle family like Harry and Hermoine. Are all parents expected to home-school their children, teach them to read, write, and do maths before they get their letter-by-owl at the age of 11? And if they don’t? There doesn’t seem to be an entrance test of any sort to determine academic level. They’re just assigned homework right away.
But it also goes beyond that. Each subject appears to focus only on it’s own content. There’s no over-lap really between what goes on in any of their classes and none of those appear to focus on some of the basic skills necessary to operate as an adult. It’s great and all to transfigure a pincushion into a hedgehog, but if you can’t communicate effectively, you’ll have a hard time getting even a sales position at Flourish and Blotts. And clear writing just isn’t learned by osmosis; it requires dedicated time and effort, as does analytical reading. Not sure I’d hire a Hogwarts graduate unless it were to clean my house.
Houses and the House Cup
The houses are a problem. Each founder sort of picked the type of characteristics that they valued in students and decided they would teach those, which is terrible. (Apart from Helga Hufflepuff, bless her empathetic heart.) What happens when a school sorts not only by ability but also by strengths and weaknesses? Why, there’s no way to learn from each other’s differences. And that’s not to say that there is no diversity of character within each Hogwarts house, but by lumping all the brave/curious trouble makers into one house, and all the intellectually talented ones in another, they have less opportunity to learn from each other, shore up their weakness, or even to recognize that they have weaknesses.
It also breeds contempt. The main characters show a surprising lack of acceptance of other houses. It’s all just competition, nasty comments, and put-downs. The Sorting Hat speaks to this and thinks it’s a mistake. People shouldn’t just be separated and then pitted against each other. Competition is fine, but there should be a greater purpose, and when all it results in is nasty pranks and bullying, something isn’t going right. The fact that pretty much all the Slytherins are on the wrong side of the final battle isn’t so much a statement of what they (or their families believe) but a fated ‘calling’; they may feel they’ve been pre-selected into an allegiance they may not think they can question.
And the arbitrary nature of the House Cup just goes to sum up the thoughtlessness and carelessness of the inter-house competitions. The Quidditch makes sense: it’s a sport, sports are competitive, there are rules, and you win or lose on your merits. But the points can apparently be handed out and taken away for any reason by any teacher, whether out of favoritism or pure spite. Probably causes more damage than it does to motivate students to be better.
Apparently, Hogwarts is a safer place to hide something than a goblin bank—perhaps. There’s a lot of security surrounding the Hogwarts castle, including spells that make in unplottable, a big gate and a half-giant who keeps the keys.
But it’s not actually that safe for students. Some parents occasionally express concern when children become petrified or someone is killed by a dark wizard, but they keep sending the kids back anyway (most of them). With dementors, serial killers breaking in, trolls, the proximity of the forbidden forest and all manner of unsavory creatures (basilisk, acromantulas) it doesn’t seem like a particularly safe place.
And that’s not even considering who gets hired. It doesn’t appear to take much to get a job at Hogwarts; a creepy prophecy, a little fame, or an affinity for dangerous creatures, appear to be enough for some positions. Undoubtedly, other teachers know their stuff (Snape, Mcgonagall, Sprout) but that’s not enough to make someone a good (or even a safe) teacher. Snape is just a bully half the time, most of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers are incompetent (and all are dangerous). And let’s not even mention the sadistic Filch.
There are a lot of rules, prefects, forms to have signed and yet none of these measures appear to be effective. It’s amazing that Madam Pomfrey doesn’t have more people to have to cure, that no one gets pregnant, and that detentions in the forbidden forest never lead to deaths.
If I were on the board of governors or inspecting as part of an accreditation team (which the wizarding world apparently doesn’t need), I’d have some serious concerns. I’d be making a lot of recommendations and I don’t fault Umbridge/Fudge for trying to get a bit more oversight, though their motives, of course, were anything but benevolent. As a parent, I’d have serious concerns sending a child to Hogwarts.
And yet, there’s a certain flair to the place. Having lived in a small castle myself for a year, I understand the appeal. I recognize that for the sake of telling a story, sometimes details must be simplified. Rowling has built an intriguing, lively, and mysterious place that most readers would love to have had in their own experiences. If my owl had come at the age of 11, I’d have hopped on that train so fast and waited to be happily sorted into Hufflepuff.
Hogwarts works for the sake of the story, but as an educator, I have to recognize the holes and suspend my disbelief when I read so I can enjoy the shenanigans of the characters, the intricately crafted story, and the creativity of a brilliant woman.