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On the Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education

So let me get this straight. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry offers elective classes in Ancient Runes, Muggle Studies, and Arithmancy and required classes in History of Magic and Potions, but has no classes at all in English Literature, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Western Civilization, or Chemistry—or any other physical science? Certainly we never read of Harry and Ron sweating an Algebra exam or Neville stumbling over the conjugation of his French verbs. Nor do we see Hermione upbraiding the boys for using the Cliffs Notes to Hamlet or Moby Dick instead of reading the original. Malfoy is never made to study the Magna Charta, William Wilberforce—or the Holocaust. Crabbe and Goyle somehow evade academic probation and continue year after year to advance with their schoolmates.

They are never exposed to Logic, Ethics, or any other branch of Philosophy. They aren’t informed about the scientific principles on which the world ordinarily works, but rather are taught a methodology to circumvent physical laws they’ve never even heard of. (How does Polyjuice Potion work at a molecular level? What is the law of conservation of matter and how does it apply to Transfiguration?)

They master doing magic with arcane symbols, but are never exposed to Shakespeare or Dickens or Hemmingway. They learn about Herbology and the Care of Magical Creatures, but could any of them explain photosynthesis or genetics or the germ theory of disease?

They learn about various Goblin Rebellions, but nothing about Athenian Democracy or the Roman Republic—much less the Battle of Hastings or anything else about the roots of British culture.

It seems to me Hogwarts is merely a glorified trade school. Its graduates learn some practical techniques for accomplishing certain tasks with little or no theory behind them (less, I would imagine, that a licensed electrician is required to know about electricity).

Actually, I’m afraid I’m being too hard on trade schools. Rather than providing practical skills that enhance one’s job prospects and improve society, the end result of a Hogwarts education can only be graduates who have mastered incredible, even frightening powers but who know (and seemingly care) very little about the actual world and how it works.

Voldemort coming along was all but inevitable, really.

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3 Comments

  1. This is one of those reasons I keep coming back to your blog. Within a short span of time we get both excellent scholarship and wonderful humor.

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  2. Hmm. All the more interesting because Rowling herself enjoyed just such a classical liberal arts education–and loved it.

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  3. Actually, the scary thing is that the closest analogy to this in our world is not the trade school, but the Bible College–as opposed to a good Christian liberal arts college.

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