Why Muggle Studies Should Be Compulsory at Hogwarts

  1. Because most wizards don’t have a clue how to interact with the muggle world. Even those, like the Weasleys, who are not prejudiced and do not see muggles as their inferiors, still do not understand the muggle world. Mr. Weasley, whose job involves working with “muggle artifacts”, does not know how to use a telephone and asks Harry about the function of a rubber duck. Other wizards show no understanding of muggle clothing, dressing themselves in unique costumes such as a kilt and a poncho, a flowery nightgown, or a frock coat over a swimsuit. If wizards are required by law to keep their existence secret from muggles, and yet sometimes need to interact with the muggle world, it only makes sense that they should learn enough about that world to be able to blend into it.
  2. Because the wizarding world is behind the times. That’s true on many different levels, but let’s talk about the most obvious, practical one. Can you imagine the shock of a muggle-born student arriving at Hogwarts and realizing they’re expected to write with a feather quill and inkwell? That might seem exciting at first, but paper and pen – or better yet, word processing software – would grow more and more appealing after late nights doing homework. Yes, I know that magic and muggle technology don’t mix, but Hogwarts has indoor plumbing, and the Weasleys have a radio. Those were both new inventions at one point, and have clearly been adapted to work with magic. I bet, if there was more awareness of the muggle world, someone would figure out magical equivalents to computers, internet, airplanes, and all kinds of other things that the wizarding world seems to be without. But with very few kids gaining any exposure to the muggle world, the wizarding world seems to have stagnated.
  3. Because there are other things wizards can learn from the muggle world, besides the joys of modern technology. Specifically, our history. They could learn that prejudice and discrimination are never acceptable. They could learn that putting the wrong person in power can lead to disaster. They could learn that those who seek to control people usually begin by limiting their knowledge, and so people like Umbridge must be opposed. Those are things that sadly are still problems in our world, and lessons that we can learn from the Harry Potter books; within the stories, they are lessons the wizarding world could learn from studying muggle history as well as their own.
  4. Because despite the International Statute of Secrecy, the muggle and magical worlds do overlap. Muggle-borns find out they are wizards at age 11 and become part of the wizarding world, also bringing their families into that world to some extent. Witches and wizards fall in love with and marry muggles. Children from wizarding families do not always have magical powers. Many witches and wizards do have to exist between the two worlds in one way or another.
  5. Most importantly, because ignorance breeds intolerance and understanding makes peace a more realistic goal. Would Voldemort have been able to get the support he did if he had not been able to draw on an existing hatred (and fear) of muggles and muggle-borns? Would that sentiment have been as strong as it was if all magical children were taught about the muggle world and taught to respect it? Perhaps the reverse is also true, and the magical world will not allow their children to be taught about telephones and electricity until they have gained more respect for those without magic. It’s hard to say, but I feel sure that the series’ villains’  intolerance of all things muggle goes hand in hand with their ignorance.

If I Went to Hogwarts

It’s nearly impossible to read Harry Potter without asking yourself how you’d fit into that world. What Harry Potter fan hasn’t thought about which house they’d be in? I know I have. I also know what kind of wand I would use (rowan and unicorn hair), and although I’ve more-or-less made peace with my cat patronus, I still insist it would be a normal cat, not an ugly hairless one. There’s a reason we all keep taking those quizzes even when they give us results we’re not crazy about. We want to catch a glimpse of who we would be if we’d really gone to Hogwarts.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, which I’m currently re-reading, the kids start taking new elective classes: Care of Magical Creatures, Divination, Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, and Muggle Studies. Most students sign up for 2 or 3 of these, but of course, Hermione takes all of them. And, even more predictably, reading those chapters again has made me wonder which classes I’d choose to take if I went to Hogwarts.

I’d definitely take Ancient Runes. I’m very much a language person, and my real-life college major was a foreign language, so studying an archaic writing system sounds right up my alley. One of the things I love about the world of Harry Potter is the power that words and language hold there, so I’d definitely want to explore it in as much depth as possible.

I’d also take Muggle Studies, not to learn about the muggle world itself, but to learn about how wizards see it. Most don’t bother to learn much about muggles, and those that do often have weird misconceptions. I think that if I found myself in the middle of a situation like that, I’d want to do something about it, and I’d need to understand both sides of the equation first.

I’m not sure I’d want to take any of the other three. I feel about the same way about Divination that McGonagall and Hermione do: there are real prophecies in the world of Harry Potter, but Trelawney is a fraud 99% of the time, and the subject isn’t useful unless you’re actually a Seer. I don’t have much respect for fortune-telling in the real world, and I doubt I’d feel much differently about it at Hogwarts.

Arithmancy is basically wizard math, and I have no reason to believe I’d like it any better than muggle math. I did well in my Algebra classes, but I never felt the need to go on to calculus. Likewise, I doubt I’d choose to take an optional math class at Hogwarts. As for Care of Magical Creatures, I’d take the class if Newt Scamander was teaching it. Hagrid, as nice a person as he is, doesn’t always have the best judgment about what creatures are too dangerous for teenagers to handle. If I did end up in his class, I’d probably drop it after the first year. So it might just be Ancient Runes and Muggle Studies.

What about the other classes, the ones required from the start? I feel sure I’d be more of a Neville or a Hermione than a Harry when it comes to flying lessons. I’m not particularly athletic, and I’m not fond of heights, which isn’t really a great combination when it comes to flying around on a broom and playing quidditch. I’m also not so sure about potions, but Herbology and Transfiguration always sound fascinating, and Defense Against the Dark Arts would definitely be worth knowing. Charms seems like the most useful and versatile branch of magic, and I suspect that one might be my favorite out of the first-year classes.

I think what I’d miss the most from the muggle world would be English classes. I’ve always enjoyed studying literature, and whatever literature the magical world has is apparently not seen as important enough to devote a class to. Nor is writing, for that matter. The kids write essays for school, but they’re not taught writing skills the way that most muggle high schoolers are. That would be a big disappointment for me. Luckily, I’d be a Ravenclaw, so it wouldn’t be too hard to get together some kind of book club or study group to learn about it on our own.

My Hogwarts House

I’ve written a lot about the Hogwarts houses, and I think I’ve mentioned that I see myself as a Ravenclaw, but until now I haven’t written much about why. So this weekend, I’m going to explore that a bit.

I think a lot of people who know me in real life would assume I’m a Hufflepuff. In many ways, I could be. I do take a lot of pride in my work ethic, and I’ve said many times that my good grades in school were due to hard work as much as intelligence. Like a Ravenclaw, I never want to stop learning about the things I’m passionate about, but like a Hufflepuff, I care enough to keep trying even when I’m not passionate at all.

There’s some Slytherin in that, too. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m never happy with less than what I know is my best. And in my own way, I’m ambitious. My goals are more typical of Ravenclaw than Slytherin (ie. “I want to write a novel”, “I want a college education”, or “I want to find a fulfilling career”), but I’m all about thinking things through, making long-term plans, and taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I find that I over-analyze Slytherin perhaps more than any other house, and that’s probably at least in part because I see ambition as a positive trait, essential to society, and only evil if taken to unhealthy extremes.

However, I’m not a Slytherin. I value ambition, and I’d probably describe myself as resourceful, but I’m not really cunning. I’d drive myself crazy trying to fit in with all the subtle manipulations and mental chess games of Slytherin. I’d much rather be in Ravenclaw, where the emphasis is more on sharing knowledge than using it as a weapon, or Hufflepuff, where community and teamwork prevail. The other big reason I’m not a Slytherin is because I wouldn’t “use any means to achieve [my] ends”. When I have to make a choice between what I want and what I believe to be right, I sincerely hope that I would always choose what’s right.

Does that make me a Gryffindor? The main Gryffindor trait is bravery, which – if you define it as thrill-seeking, looking for dangerous or scary situations just for the sake of it – I don’t have much of. On the other hand, if you define bravery as doing the right thing even when it’s not easy, or making a choice even though it scares you, then I certainly hope I’d be able to be brave, and I believe I have been in the past. However, bravery is not the focal point of my life in the way that it would be for a Gryffindor. Hogwarts houses are all about what you value most, and for me, both Ravenclaw’s lifelong learning and Hufflepuff’s fairness come in ahead of Gryffindor’s courage.

So, back to Hufflepuff. On Pottermore, the Hufflepuff mascot – the badger – is described as “an animal that is often underestimated, because it lives quietly until attacked, but which, when provoked, can fight off animals much larger than itself.” This is very much how I choose to live my life. I try to get along with everyone and stay out of drama. I am deeply loyal to those I care about, and I try to be polite even to those I don’t like. Because of this, and because I look younger than I am, I think people tend to underestimate me.

On top of all that, there’s a side to me I’ve only had a chance to start discovering this past year. For most of my life, I’ve been a student, but now I’m a teacher, and as a teacher, I aspire to be more like Helga Hufflepuff than any of the other founders. She was the only one to take all students, including those rejected by her three colleagues. While I don’t find all children easy to deal with, I want them all to feel welcome and supported in my classroom. In fact, I often find that the kids I like the most are not the academic superstars or the most popular kids, but the Hufflepuffs of the group, who are kind and respectful and always try their best.

And yet, despite all that, I don’t see myself as a Hufflepuff. I interact with the world around me in a way that may look Hufflepuff, and perhaps even is Hufflepuff, but that barely scratches the surface of who I am. The rest of me – the way my mind works, the reasons I do what I do, the things I pursue in my free time, the person I am when I’m alone, everything that makes me me on the inside – is Ravenclaw. Maybe it’s an introvert thing.

I’d actually be very interested to know: are introverts more likely to choose a Hogwarts house based on who they are inside, as opposed to their actions or outward selves? Are extraverts more likely to do the opposite? I would guess so, but I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m definitely a Hufflepuff on the surface and a Ravenclaw deep down, and that it’s my Ravenclaw traits that fuel a lot of those Hufflepuff ones in the first place.

It’s not just that I’m smart. I mean, I think every nerdy middle-schooler wishes for a place where their intelligence would be valued instead of mocked, and that’s where I was when I first started to think of myself as a Ravenclaw. But, as Hermione proves, members of any house can be intelligent. If book smarts and middle school wishes were the only thing tying me to Ravenclaw, I’d probably have started to see myself as a smart Hufflepuff by now, which would be no more of a contradiction than being a smart blonde.

That’s not the case. If Hogwarts houses are based on what you value most, the passion that drives you in life, then I absolutely am a Ravenclaw. I am constantly curious, constantly questioning and looking for answers. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be done learning, because there will always be something I don’t know and want to. When I have a passion for something, whether it’s Harry Potter or a foreign language or a time in history or whatever, I want to learn absolutely everything about it. I devour books, fiction or nonfiction, classics or new releases, anything and everything that intrigues me enough to want to pick it up.

It doesn’t matter to me whether what I’m learning is “useful” or not. For example, when choosing a college major, it never occurred to me to specialize in field with higher paying jobs or better prospects; I thought carefully about which major to choose, but only considered ones that I have a passion for. My academic success is driven primarily by my love of learning (even Hufflepuff work ethic comes in second to that), so I knew I’d have a better chance to succeed if I was truly driven to learn more about what I was studying in my classes.

I try to embody Hufflepuff values as a teacher, but I was drawn to teaching in the first place for very Ravenclaw reasons. There’s nothing more fulfilling for me than sharing what I know and love with others and learning more about it along the way. I love teaching actual lessons, but I also love preparing them and figuring out the best way to teach something, making connections that escaped me when I was an elementary school student myself. I love that it’s different each day and that I have to be creative and adaptable in order to make things work. And I love that look in a kid’s eye when something finally clicks. I don’t think I could stand to do a desk job in an office. I would go crazy without something to stimulate my mind.

I would like to think that I make wise choices, and that I learn from my mistakes in order to become wiser as I grow older. Part of this, I think, is listening to both my head and my heart when I make a decision. I don’t like to make split-second gut instinct choices. I want to know all the facts first, and I also want time to consider my emotions and listen to my conscience. I find it easiest to solve a problem when I have the chance to “sleep on it” and process all the information.

In fact, processing and analyzing comes as naturally to me as breathing. Even when it comes to fictional stories, I can never just watch a movie or read a book, then put it down and forget about it. I have to overanalyze. I have to pick apart the details, the characters, the subtle uses of foreshadowing or horribly obvious plot twists, the themes and questions interwoven throughout. Everything that I read, I read it as literature, whether it’s Shakespeare or just some kids’ series about a wizard. 😉

I connect things. My mom calls me a “creative connector”, and she’s not wrong. I spend a lot of time thinking, for example, about what Hogwarts houses characters from other works of fiction would be in. As a teacher, I try to draw connections between different subject areas, because everything is connected, especially in the broad ways things are taught at the elementary school level. And as a student, I used to find those same sort of connections between my college classes, when – for instance – the same topic came up, from different perspectives, in a communications class, a linguistics class, and a foreign language class. The whole world is a huge web of connections, and …

I’m sorry. You were here to hear me talk about my Hogwarts house, not go off on a tangent about everything being connected. But do you see why I’m so sure I’m a Ravenclaw?

Hogwarts Houses and Graduation

What would members of each house be the most proud of at their graduation – whether it be high school, college, or even Hogwarts?

Gryffindor: the risks they’ve taken that have paid off, the crazy adventures they’ve had, the people they’ve stood up for (or to), the ways they’ve grown, and the confidence with which they now face the future.

Hufflepuff: the people they’ve grown close to, the relationships they’ve formed, the dedication with which they’ve worked to get to this point, the kindness they’ve shown to others, and the ways they’ve helped make their school and community a better place.

Ravenclaw: the things they’ve learned, the new passions they’ve discovered that go beyond what they learned in the classroom, the notes they’ve let their friends borrow and the study sessions they’ve led, the books they’ve lost and found themselves in, and the questions they’re still asking.

Slytherin: the great things they’ve achieved, the trophies and awards, the late nights of studying, the blood sweat and tears that it took them to get here, the people they’ve impressed, the goals they’re one step closer to, and the knowledge that they will never, ever give up.

Camping with the Hogwarts Houses

I’ve pretty much run out of steam on the whole Sorting Hat Saturday thing, which is probably pretty obvious since it’s been a month since I’ve posted one. So until I’m struck with new inspiration for that, I’ve got a new idea: how would people from each of the Hogwarts houses react to ordinary – or extraordinary – circumstances? I kind of did this once before when I talked about how each Hogwarts house would choose to use time travel, but this week will be more ordinary: four people, one from each house, go out into the woods on a camping trip.

The Gryffindor sees the whole thing as an adventure. They want to go rock climbing, bungee jumping, hiking through uncharted parts of the forest, etc. If the group runs into a snake or hears the growling of a wolf outside their tent, it’s the Gryffindor who jumps forward to confront the threat. They’re brave, protective of their fellow campers, and never stop looking for the next thrill.

The Ravenclaw brings along a favorite book or two to read beside the campfire each night. They probably did a lot of research in the weeks leading up to the trip, because they’re full of trivia. They can tell you what kind of a tree that is, what sorts of birds are common in this area, how best to prevent bug bites, and anything else you might – or might not – want to know. Don’t bother bringing along a guide book; they’ve already read and practically memorized it.

The Slytherin wants to be in charge. As far as they’re concerned, it’s up to them to make a plan for the day and make sure everyone else follows it. What’s for dinner? Whose turn is it to do the dishes? How far are you hiking today? The Slytherin knows, and they’ll make sure you do, too.

The Hufflepuff looks at it as a bonding experience. They’ll leave the micromanaging to the Slytherin and do anything that’s asked of them without complaining. But what they’re really there for is to braid each other’s hair, share secrets, and sing campfire songs all night long. Anything that will bring them closer to their friends.

Sorting Hat Saturday: High School Musical

High School Musical came out when I was in sixth grade, and a couple of years later, I was in a local theater production of it. I have to admit that still love it, even as an adult. It’s cheesy, it’s unrealistic, but it’s sugar-coated in nostalgia for me. I think I still know every word of “We’re All in This Together”.

Anyway, I decided to sort the characters into Hogwarts houses this week, and here’s what I came up with.

Gabriella: Ravenclaw. Not just because of her exceptional intelligence, but because her first priority is always to stay true to herself. At her old schools, where she was ostracized for her intelligence, she still continued to embrace it; at East High, she’s accepted by a group of fellow “braniacs” but risks losing them as friends to pursue her growing interest in theater. Ravenclaws are independent thinkers who don’t tend to cave in to peer pressure, as seen in the extreme example of Luna Lovegood. Gabriella is smart, creative, genuine, and totally Ravenclaw.

Troy: Gryffindor. His storyline in each movie is about finding courage to stand up for what he wants in increasingly difficult circumstances, and while he has his moments of weakness, he always rises to the occasion in the end. Unlike Gabriella, he doesn’t find it easy to simply be himself. But he finds it within himself to stand up to bullies, defy expectations, and do right by the people he’s close to. He would be a Gryffindor, not because bravery is easy for him, but because he always pushes himself to make the brave choice and clearly values courage more than anything else.

Sharpay: Slytherin. There’s very little she won’t do to get what she wants. Sharpay is sneaky, ambitious, and overly proud – all typical Slytherin flaws. I mean, her solos/duets are almost always about how big her dreams are and how much she wants to accomplish. Bop bop bop, bop to the top …

Ryan: Hufflepuff. This is a hard one, but I feel pretty confident. Ryan is not a typical Hufflepuff, no stability or steadfast loyalty here. In fact, he spends a lot of time wavering back and forth between supporting his egomaniac sister and standing up for the other kids. But once he does have a chance to develop, he shows himself to embody Hufflepuff virtues. He cares enough about what’s fair and what’s right to not be okay with Sharpay’s schemes, and he works very hard on projects that won’t benefit him, like doing the choreography for a musical in which he himself only plays a small part.

Chad: Hufflepuff. Chad is a team member before he’s an individual. While Troy and Gabriella stand up against peer pressure, Chad gives into it without even noticing that he does and takes part in it without seeing anything wrong with that. His friendship with Troy is genuine, and his loyalty to his team is absolute, but he rarely shows any independence.

Taylor: Slytherin. For the same reasons Chad is a Hufflepuff, Taylor can’t be a Ravenclaw. She’s certainly intelligent, but her first reaction is to discourage a friend from exploring new interests because it will interfere with her own goals. She prioritizes winning above all else. Even in the third movie, her level-headed decision to go to Yale – across the country from Chad – is contrasted with Gabriella and Troy’s anguish at the thought of being separated by a much shorter distance. Her ambitions and goals come first.

Sorting Hat Sunday: Les Mis Part II

One of the most perplexing things about trying to fit the Les Mis characters into Hogwarts houses is that they’re so different across different iterations of the story. Sure, Valjean and Javert are pretty similar, and the Thenardiers are just funnier in the musical, but keep most of the same personality traits. But when it comes to the younger generation of characters, that’s not the case. The musical versions of Eponine, Marius, and Cosette are so different from their book counterparts that it’s almost impossible to decide on a definitive house for them.

Eponine: Gryffindor/Slytherin. In the musical, Eponine is a good-hearted and courageous young woman in a horrible situation. In the novel, she’s a desperate girl doing what it takes to survive, who is loyal only to Marius and will do anything for him. She is more involved with her father’s criminal activities than the musical suggests, and her actions at the barricade are less noble, since she brought Marius there in the first place hoping that they would both die together. Both versions love Marius, but in the novel, she loves Marius the way that Snape loves Lily: genuinely, one could even say selflessly, but with a mindset that is entirely fixated on him and wouldn’t care if the rest of the world burned to the ground. I would put the musical version of Eponine in Gryffindor and the book version in Slytherin; I guess it’s true that the two houses are two sides of the same coin.

Marius: Gryffindor? In the musical, Marius comes across as a brave, honorable young man fighting for a cause he believes in. In the novel … not so much. I think the best way to describe book Marius is “wishy-washy”. While his friends plan their revolution, Marius’ attention is easily diverted by Cosette, and soon, he barely cares about their ideals at all, only rejoining them at the barricade once he thinks he’s lost her. Likewise, he turns on Jean Valjean when the latter reveals himself to be an escaped convict, while in the musical, it’s only Valjean’s own insistence on leaving that separates him from Cosette. I’m not actually sure what house I’d put book Marius in. He’s not particularly loyal to anyone besides Cosette, and far from being ambitious or cunning, he’s easily tricked and can’t read people to save his life (for instance, he thinks Thenardier is a hero and Valjean a no-good criminal). Nor is he especially studious or intellectual, despite being a law student. Perhaps I would put him in Gryffindor, for the way he constantly speaks his mind and follows his heart, but it’s a vague, fickle sort of bravery.

Cosette: Hufflepuff/Gryffindor. Like Marius and Eponine, Cosette is very different in the musical and the book. The former doesn’t have much personality beyond being kind and sheltered, while the latter is outspoken and spirited, with a hidden longing for adventure – and for a sheltered girl who grew up in a convent, a secret romance with a young revolutionary must seem very adventurous indeed. She’s not involved in the more dangerous parts of the novel, but she speaks her mind and refuses to be ignored, silenced, or pushed into anything she doesn’t want, even by those she loves most. As Dumbledore once said, “it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”