School Choice in Pop Culture: Harry Potter
Harry Potter may be from a fictional world, but we still had fun discussing the crossover of today’s real-world educational topics in one of our favorite series
In today’s episode of EdChoice Chats, two hardcore Harry Potter fans—our President and CEO Robert Enlow and our CRM and Email Marketing Manager Abby Hayes—get creative discussing the educational themes in one of the most beloved book and movie series of all time. Join the conversation with our video or audio-only podcast below.
Our Interview Transcribed
Robert Enlow: Hello, and welcome to another episode of EdChoice Chats. This is our School Choice and Pop Culture series. My name is Robert Enlow, and I’m the president and CEO of EdChoice. I’m being joined by-
Abby Hayes: Abby Hayes.
Robert Enlow: Abby Hayes, and you are our-
Abby Hayes: I’m the CRM and email marketing manager.
Robert Enlow: Basically, everything you get from us comes from Abby in many ways, and so we’re really glad to have her. I’m really excited today because we’re going to be doing one of my favorite things, is talking about Harry Potter. So clearly, I’m a big nerd about this. Also, I have to admit, I am a member of the Ravenclaw house, according to the website, even if I wanted to be Gryffindor. So, what house are you?
Abby Hayes: I’m Ravenclaw too. I’m rocking my Ravenclaw gear today.
Robert Enlow: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about Harry Potter and school choice, and there is a lot to talk about here, but we’re going to start off with a clip, and of course, everyone who has ever seen Harry Potter in the world knows this clip. It’s at the beginning of the first book, and it’s when Harry is coming into the Grand Hall, which by the way, I’m sure all of you have visited in England like I have.
He is coming to the Hat, the Sorting Hat as they call it, to see what house he is going to be sent to inside of Hogwarts. It’s a very big scene, it’s going to set the stage for the rest of the books. So I think we’re going to start off showing that, and then discuss that.
Abby Hayes: All right.
Movie Clip: Ronald Weasley.
Hah, another Weasley. I know just what to do with you. Gryffindor!
Hmm, difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind, either. There’s talent, oh yes, and a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you?
Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.
Not Slytherin, eh? Are you sure? You could be great, you know. It’s all here, in your head. And Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, there’s no doubt about that. No? Well, if you’re sure, better be … Gryffindor!
Robert Enlow: Okay, so everyone who’s watched the Sorting Hat has seen so much in there. So what strikes you first about that? I think there’s so much there.
Abby Hayes: I said actually while we were watching it, when Ron gets sorted, there’s sibling preference.
Robert Enlow: Yeah, that’s right.
Abby Hayes: You see that a lot in school applications. “Oh, your siblings are all here, that’s where you go.”
Robert Enlow: Yeah, so the first thing about the Sorting Hat is Ron Weasley gets up there and it’s just like charter schools, right? Sibling preference, it’s allowed. In a charter school, you are allowed to have siblings come in without having to go through the application or the lottery process. So in a way, the Sorting Hat exhibited sibling preference. I like that. What else did you think about?
Abby Hayes: So, I read an article recently about how Harry should have been a Slytherin, which I do not agree with. He could have been a Slytherin, but no, that would not have worked. One of the things that the commenters pointed out that I really liked was that the Sorting Hat seems to be sorting kids not based on who they are currently, but on who they want to become. I kind of love that as an analogy for school choice. We as parents choose schools for our kids based on the values we want to instill in them. And it has to do with their learning style now, of course, but also, here’s what we’re becoming, here’s what we’re working towards.
Robert Enlow: So it’s that aspirational thing. I think that’s great. I think a couple of things. One, of course Harry shouldn’t have been in Slytherin, because he was infused with Voldemort, and that’s the only reason he would have had Slytherin in him at all, being one of the … I can never say that word. The horcrux.
Abby Hayes: Horcrux? Yes.
Robert Enlow: I hate that word. The other thing that struck me over this whole thing is the trepidation of the kids. So, as you’re going into school and you’re a young kid and you’re sort of approaching where you’re going to be, there’s this whole, “What do I do? How do I do it? I’m a little confused, I’m a little nervous, I’m a little worried.” And sort of the instance of relief on people’s, once they were actually sorted, in a way. It was very interesting. Once the choice had been made, there was a lot of interesting reactions. Some people were, “I’m ready to go,” and some people were just, “Oh, okay.”
Abby Hayes: Yeah, you’ve probably experienced that as a parent, too. I know I have, with picking a kindergarten last year and there’s all this angst about it. And then you get your decision, and it’s like, “All right, this is what we’re doing. We’re good now.”
Robert Enlow: Yeah, once that decision is made. So one could make the argument though, that the Sorting Hat is this benevolent dictator, right?
Abby Hayes: Sort of, sure.
Robert Enlow: It says where kids are going to go. How do you respond to that?
Abby Hayes: Yeah. Well, we’ve talked about it as far as common enrollment, right?
Robert Enlow: I wasn’t going to go there right off the bat, but we can.
Abby Hayes: I know. I know. Well, obviously it’s taking their choices into account on some level. Which, good common enrollment systems do. But what algorithm is the Sorting Hat using? How is it making its decisions? Is it always taking into account that … We don’t have records of anybody else’s conversations with the Sorting Hat. Especially in the book. Only Harry is the one who has that kind of in depth, “I don’t want to do this,” with the Sorting Hat.
Robert Enlow: And for those of you who don’t know, common enrollment systems are systems where everyone’s name is ostensibly, every family puts their name on a list for the schools that they want, and then an algorithm will sort their options for them and tell them what school they go to. Some cities have this, I think in Boston, Indianapolis, Denver, and a few other cities have this process.
Abby Hayes: New Orleans, I think.
Robert Enlow: New Orleans as well, yeah, absolutely, it has this process. It’s very interesting.
Harry. Let’s get to Harry a little bit.
Abby Hayes: Okay.
Robert Enlow: So, I think Harry is an interesting example of fighting the system. How do you feel about that?
Abby Hayes: Tell me what you mean by that.
Robert Enlow: So Harry, the Sorting Hat is there telling … Whether or not it’s a common enrollment type system where it’s taking their choices into account, it doesn’t look like that until you get to Harry. So when you get to Harry, it’s the first time where you see someone as a kid think to the Hat and say, “I don’t want the choice I think you might give me.”
Abby Hayes: Yeah, yeah.
Robert Enlow: And so, that may have been going on in the other ones, but it wasn’t going on until we saw that.
Abby Hayes: We just don’t see it. They’re not our main character.
Robert Enlow: So Harry basically is saying to the system, “The heck with you.”
Abby Hayes: I think on some level, there’s that. I think a lot of what it is for Harry is that he already kind of feels like he belongs with these other people that he’s already made friends with, because he’s coming to this completely new situation. He doesn’t even really know that much about Slytherin, other than Draco’s kind of mean, like his cousin, and Draco’s obviously in Slytherin and says that he should be too, because all of the good people are in Slytherin. So he kind of rejects that idea of … He’s experienced that snobbery at home, because where before he found out about Hogwarts, this is not context for the movie, but from the book. So before he finds out that he’s going to Hogwarts, he lives with his aunt and uncle who obviously treat him horribly, and his cousin gets to go to this fancy, probably boarding school, private school, where he carries a cane because … I don’t know why, because it’s England and people do crazy things like that. So he’s going there, and Harry’s going to go to, they’re just like, “Oh, you’re just going to the local public school,” and it’s terrible and whatever. So he’s already kind of experienced that snobbery in his home life and he wants none of it.
Robert Enlow: Of course, those of us across the pond in America don’t have any snobbery whatsoever. I think it’s really interesting, the word you used, belonging. I really like that word, because the sense of education being about belonging and creating a sense of belonging at the school and with your peers. I certainly think that happens in the Sorting Hat scene.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Robert Enlow: What other instances in Harry Potter … So, we’re talking about the Sorting Hat, but there’s got to be all sorts of other school choice parallels in Harry Potter, in the books in the movies. What do you think of the other ones?
Abby Hayes: Yeah, so when we’ve been batting ideas around the office, because there are a lot of Harry Potter nerds in our office, of course. So when we’ve been batting ideas around, we’ve talked about how there’s actually kind of a profound lack of school choice for wizards. There’s only, as far as we know, one major school per region. I’m curious about that, and if that could be different or what that might look like if it were different. How you could take on kind of a new educational model for wizarding.
Robert Enlow: Well, so there’s certainly the distinction between a Muggle and a wizard, right?
Abby Hayes: Oh, yeah.
Robert Enlow: So Muggles don’t go to wizarding school and wizards go to wizarding school. But there’s some half-breeds, as it were, if you use that terminology from the book. Or the half-bloods.
Abby Hayes: Including Hermione.
Robert Enlow: Yeah, including Hermione. And they can go to … But not squibs, per se. Let’s talk about that for a second.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, squibs are kind of an interesting case. So if you know much about the movies or the books, Argus Filch, the caretaker who’s in the Sorting Hat scene, he’s a squib. He can’t do magic, but he was born to a magical family, and then Harry’s neighbor. What’s her name?
Robert Enlow: Oh, the …
Abby Hayes: The lady with the cats.
Robert Enlow: Yes.
Abby Hayes: She is also a squib. So they seem to keep a connection with the wizarding world, but they’re not really in it. I am curious about how they get educated. I think in the book, there’s a scene where they say that normally, squibs get sent to Muggle schools and kind of integrated with the Muggle community, because I guess, what else do you do with them? Is there a way to educate them in the wizarding world? Apparently not.
Robert Enlow: Apparently not. So clearly, in some ways when we’re talking about Harry Potter, there’s just a lack of options. There’s a lack of choices.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, yeah.
Robert Enlow: A lot of lack of choices for people. That’s very interesting. So when you think also about, let’s talk about Ron for a second. Ronald Weasley. So do you think Ron knew what he wanted to do or knew what he chose or knew what he was thinking? I guess the point of, maybe a character that … They say school choice leaves some behind, right?
Abby Hayes: Okay.
Robert Enlow: So let’s say the Sorting Hat is sort of the government-run school system, the chooser, right? Then Ron was the one left behind. Because he didn’t really make a choice like Harry. But what happened to Ron as a result of being selected to go to Gryffindor? His life was totally different.
So I guess, are there benefits to those who haven’t made a choice? What are the benefits to those who don’t actually make choices in the book, and where do they get to make choices? At what point?
Abby Hayes: I mean, the whole series is about character development and everybody making choices about who they want to be. That all comes to a head for Ron in Deathly Hallows, where he decides, “Do I want to keep basically playing a good supporting character to Harry Potter, or do I want to just opt out of all of this?” And he ultimately decides in favor of loyalty, which makes him a good Gryffindor.
Robert Enlow: After he opted out, though.
Abby Hayes: After he opted out. Well, you know, he’s a teenager. He’s in crisis. He opted out and he came back and saved the day.
Robert Enlow: He certainly did come back and save the day.
Abby Hayes: So I would say that, based on that, and Gryffindor’s sword appears for him like it did for Harry. That’s all confirmation that, oh yeah, Gryffindor was a good fit for Ron.
Robert Enlow: So, this is like downstream benefits, right? So this argument that by being around people who are making choices and who are belonging, everyone gets to benefit. So this is the idea of school choice benefiting everyone in society.
Abby Hayes: Sure.
Robert Enlow: So the more you have options, the better society can be in the long haul, because people will vote more. We know this from our research, right? Parents will vote more, they’ll get more involved in their community, they’ll get more involved in their schools. I think it’s not necessarily an intentional part of the book, but I think there’s this whole sort of conversation about downstream benefits from belonging in choice.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, you see it with the triad, right? They all kind of help each other. I mean, really, Hermione should have been a Ravenclaw. We should have claimed Hermione. She’s definitely more of a Ravenclaw than a Gryffindor, I would argue any day of the week. However, Ron and Harry needed her, so maybe the Sorting Hat had some prescience there, like, “Hey, they need somebody who’s going to keep them on track.”
Robert Enlow: Well, it’s also artistic license, right? So then the books need that.
How else does Harry Potter sort of fit into the school choice world, in your mind? Are there other ways it fits in?
Abby Hayes: You know, I’m kind of curious about what they do, and there might be some information about this, there’s all kinds of background information on Pottermore and wherever. I’m kind of curious about what they do for wizarding primary school. Because obviously, they all come in at 11, and they know how to read. They know the basics of reading and figuring, because we don’t see much of any of that happening in wizarding school. They’re learning about specifically magic things. So I’m kind of curious what that looks like. Do they have options? Do they just send their kids to Muggle school and hope they don’t blow up the building accidentally one day?
Robert Enlow: Or, where did Voldemort come from? Voldemort was, as I recall, wasn’t he in a foster home?
Abby Hayes: He was in an orphanage, yeah.
Robert Enlow: So he was in a situation where he was not being educated and he was blowing up things, right?
Abby Hayes: Yes. Yes, it was a really bad situation.
Robert Enlow: Okay, so what about the yellow bus system of Hogwarts? Otherwise known as the train on platform 9 3/4? So there’s no other … This is very interesting when it comes to, one of the criticisms made of school choice is there is no transportation.
Abby Hayes: It’s true, it’s true.
Robert Enlow: Or if there is transportation, it’s the yellow bus system, it’s the school bus system. In this case of Hogwarts, it’s only the train.
Abby Hayes: That’s interesting. And it only presumably stops in London.
Robert Enlow: Correct.
Abby Hayes: There’s got to be, I bet that there are other ways to get …
Robert Enlow: There are other ways, and what are those other ways that Harry Potter had to get to the school?
Abby Hayes: Well, I mean, the boys steal a car and get in illicitly.
Robert Enlow: They steal a car, that’s one. But there’s another one. How do they get back and forth on the animals they can’t see?
Abby Hayes: Oh yeah, they take the Thestrals at one point.
Robert Enlow: That’s right.
Abby Hayes: But that’s also like, flying under the radar. They’re not supposed to do that. There’s got to be other legitimate ways to get there. Like, what if you don’t live near London?
Robert Enlow: I don’t know. It’s interesting.
Abby Hayes: I mean, I guess, England is relatively small. I’m thinking about this in my American context.
Robert Enlow: Like it’s in wizarding where you can just disapparate if you’re good enough as a wizard.
Abby Hayes: You could just apparate somewhere close to London and then put your kids on the train, that’s true. That would be really…
Robert Enlow: Or they have apparation stations don’t they? Or disapparation stations.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, there are some close to … Well, they-
Robert Enlow: … transportation issue to school was an interesting one. So if you missed the train, literally-
Abby Hayes: Which they do at some point.
Robert Enlow: You gotta steal a car. Or ride a Thestral.
Abby Hayes: I’m trying to think.
Robert Enlow: They rode it out of Hogwarts, I think.
Abby Hayes: They rode out of Hogwarts before they go to the Ministry-
Robert Enlow: Before they go to the Ministry, that’s right.
Abby Hayes: Before the battle at the Ministry, yeah.
Robert Enlow: So that struck me as this thing about the train, the only way in. And of course, the only way in for the Romanian school is the ship.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, it seems to be. It seems to be.
Robert Enlow: All right, so school choice. So Harry’s now at school, he’s been sorted into Gryffindor. Does he ever want to get out? Does he ever want to go not to school, not to be in Gryffindor? Is there any point where he says, “I don’t like my choice anymore.” Does he ever think about moving?
Abby Hayes: I don’t think he ever thinks about moving to a different house. I think that there are these continuous questions of, “Do I belong here? Do I really belong here?” But those keep getting affirmed.
I mean, we see … My daughter and I just started Chamber of Secrets last night, actually. We only read the first chapter. In Chamber of Secrets, he pulls Gryffindor’s sword out of the Sorting Hat, confirming that, yes, you belong here. And that continues to happen. I think it’s always that war between Harry as he is and Harry as a horcrux. There’s always that piece of Voldemort. When he kind of comes out with those more Slytherin qualities, he himself questions, “Are you sure? Should I really be here? Should I be in Slytherin?”
Robert Enlow: At some point, he rejects the school though, right? He leaves, right?
Abby Hayes: Oh yeah, he leaves school all together.
Robert Enlow: He says, “I’m done, I’m not going to come back for my final year, I’m leaving.”
Abby Hayes: Yeah.
Robert Enlow: And yet, that decision to take that, actually was what ended up saving the school in the long run, one would think.
Abby Hayes: Saving the whole world.
Robert Enlow: Saving, one could argue, the whole wizarding world, yes.
Abby Hayes: I would say the whole world. Voldemort’s destroying Muggles left and right, too.
Robert Enlow: Fair enough.
Abby Hayes: Harry Potter saves the world.
Robert Enlow: It wasn’t just Harry. Let’s give Hermione and Ron, and let’s give our wonderful elf-
Abby Hayes: Neville.
Robert Enlow: And Neville.
Abby Hayes: Oh yes, Neville Longbottom. Neville is the key, I think he’s the key character for showing that you get sorted into a house based on who you want to become, not on who you are, because he clearly should have been a Hufflepuff. He has the most in common with the Hufflepuff head of house, who runs the greenhouse. But he becomes a Gryffindor. He, too, pulls Godric Gryffindor’s sword out of the Hat.
Robert Enlow: He does. And he saves Harry, certainly, in the Tri-Wizarding Cup with his gillyweed, even though he was given a little help there.
Abby Hayes: That’s true, yes.
Robert Enlow: But I think the characters of Neville, and then I think of Dobby. Dobby’s uneducated. He’s an uneducated elf.
Abby Hayes: It’s true, you have this whole argument about these magical, but non-human, non-wizard creatures.
Robert Enlow: Non-schooled, as it were. Non-typically schooled.
Abby Hayes: Yes, yes.
Robert Enlow: Yet, seemingly learned. So if you look at Dobby and elves, are extremely magical creatures. They don’t go to formal school, and yet they seem to be learned in wizardry.
Abby Hayes: That we know of.
Robert Enlow: Or in magic.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, I wonder if it’s more instinctual. But even the basics, he seems to be able to read, at least.
Robert Enlow: Correct. Well, everyone who’s at Gringott’s, right? All the folks at Gringott’s.
Abby Hayes: All the goblins. There’s got to be this whole other education system for goblins. They basically learn accounting.
Robert Enlow: That’s right. So there’s got to be another learning system. It’s not just theirs.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, it’s true.
Robert Enlow: So there’s an interesting, there’s a human wizarding school, and what about the other wizarding learning areas?
Abby Hayes: Interesting.
Robert Enlow: I guess we’re left to postulate about those.
Abby Hayes: Right, right.
Robert Enlow: How they learn.
Abby Hayes: Yeah. I think there are some hints that wizards also learn at school a little bit before they go. They typically are home schooled, I think, before.
Robert Enlow: Interesting, wizards as homeschoolers.
Abby Hayes: I think so.
Robert Enlow: All right. So I want to go back to Harry Potter dropping out. Harry Potter is a drop-out.
Abby Hayes: He is a high school drop-out, it’s true.
Robert Enlow: He’s a high school drop-out. Was that okay? Was that the right thing for him to do? Did he learn? Did he have a good quality of life? Did he not … I mean, in our modern world of school choice, he should be forced to go on this sort of progression, this linear progression. Grade school, high school, college.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, that was obviously the right choice, because, A, he saved the entire world, as I’ve already said. Because Voldemort would have taken over everything and it would have been terrible. But also, we know from The Cursed Child … Have you read The Cursed Child?
Robert Enlow: Hold on, I have to step back for a second. Just because Voldemort would have tried to kill Muggles doesn’t mean Muggles would have killed him back, because if you look at Fantastic Beasts, it looks like they’re really scared of humans and humans killing them.
Abby Hayes: All right.
Robert Enlow: So, I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily count the Muggles out, if you’re in a war against Voldemort. But let’s move on.
Abby Hayes: All right. Have you read Cursed Child?
Robert Enlow: Standing up for the Muggle. No, I haven’t read that yet.
Abby Hayes: Okay. Well, it’s a post-story. It’s about one of Harry’s sons. It takes us way far into the future.
Robert Enlow: Best friends with Malfoy’s son, I understand. Good friends with Malfoy’s son.
Abby Hayes: Yes. That’s right, isn’t it? Sorry, I’m totally referencing off-camera. It’s been a minute since I’ve read it.
Robert Enlow: So I’ll have to start reading it, but I’ve heard that.
Abby Hayes: It’s really good. It’s a fun read, it’s totally different because it’s a play. Anyway, we know from that that Harry becomes an Auror, which is what he’s always wanted to do. What he wanted to do in high school, but they told him he couldn’t because his potions scores weren’t good enough. Remember that?
Robert Enlow: I do remember that.
Abby Hayes: And so clearly, he has this successful life, like he’s got a wife and kids and is doing great things. I mean, Hermione’s a drop-out too. I would venture a guess that Hermione probably went back and crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s, but we don’t know that.
Robert Enlow: Actually, let’s talk, this is really interesting now, because I’m getting … So Hermione probably finished well before she actually progressed linearly.
Abby Hayes: That’s true.
Robert Enlow: She probably had the number of credits and the quality of her test scores to have been finished probably in her third year.
Abby Hayes: That’s probably true. Yeah.
Robert Enlow: I mean heck, the one year she spent in 18 different classes using the time piece, she probably graduated then, right?
Abby Hayes: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true.
Robert Enlow: So Harry’s a drop-out, but that was okay.
Abby Hayes: But that was okay. You know who else leaves early? The Weasley twins leave early and start a wildly successful business.
Robert Enlow: The Weasley twins, yeah.
Abby Hayes: It would have been silly for them to stay an extra year. I mean, their mom’s furious when they drop out, but they’re the most successful Weasleys, arguably.
Robert Enlow: So this is really interesting, when you look at Harry Potter and school choice, there are multiple pathways as you get past a minimum level of education.
Abby Hayes: Sure.
Robert Enlow: And none of those pathways are judged to be bad?
Abby Hayes: Well, I mean, I think the adults-
Robert Enlow: Some are more challenging than others.
Abby Hayes: I think the adults in the situation would say that not taking the traditional pathway is bad. But it ultimately doesn’t turn out that way. I mean, Mrs. Weasley is really upset when Fred and George leave early. She thinks that they shouldn’t have done that, but then they go on and found their successful business.
And all of the adults in Harry, Ron and Hermione’s lives are saying, “You really need to stay in school,” which, let’s be honest, if my kid were going up against a dark lord of magic, I would be saying the same thing, like, “Please don’t do this.”
Robert Enlow: Sure, please don’t do this.
Abby Hayes: However …
Robert Enlow: So yeah, the adults are mad at the Weasley brothers, right?
Abby Hayes: Right.
Robert Enlow: No one’s really mad at Harry when he drops out, he just drops out.
Abby Hayes: No, they are. They just can’t find him. I mean, they argued against him doing it. Just nobody can find him.
Robert Enlow: Fair point. But he drops out, he goes through a trial, and he comes back and he doesn’t go back to school. He doesn’t finish, as far as we know.
Abby Hayes: Not that we know of, right.
Robert Enlow: So there are other pathways to successful societies and successful lives than merely completing a formalized education.
Abby Hayes: Right, right.
Robert Enlow: And so I think that’s a really interesting part about Harry Potter. So you know Hermione obviously had enough credits to finish, right? You just know that.
Abby Hayes: Right. Yeah.
Robert Enlow: And Ron, I assume …
Abby Hayes: Ron and Harry worked together, they-
Robert Enlow: As an Auror, right?
Abby Hayes: Yeah, they’re doing good things as adults. They probably didn’t go back and finish, because they’re just not those types of kids.
Robert Enlow: So Ron’s a classic C student, is that what we’re saying here?
Abby Hayes: Yeah, I think Ron just needed to find his motivation. He’s the … Yeah, I would say he’s the classic sort of coasting student. He’s just going to kind of, you know, go and do what he absolutely has to to get by.
Robert Enlow: But be successful anyway, right?
Abby Hayes: Yeah.
Robert Enlow: I think it’s interesting. I think it’s one of the interesting things that Harry Potter, in this conversation, makes me think about, is the limits of education. In terms of how … Not the limits of education, the limits of school buildings. The limits of formalized school. I don’t think anyone’s stopped learning or stopped getting educated as they went past, as they got out of the school building.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, and that’s kind of interesting to talk about with Harry too, because of his career choice. He is fighting dark magic, that’s what he decides to go and do. You can look back and he had maybe one, maybe two Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. Most of his experience that he would probably be using on his job as an adult didn’t come from his formal education, because Defense Against the Dark Arts was inconsistent and-
Robert Enlow: Was always where the Voldemort people went.
Abby Hayes: Inconsistent and pretty terrible, yeah. Right? So all of his, I mean the stuff that he’s using in his every day job is really from his experience in life and with Voldemort.
Robert Enlow: Remember, oh, there’s a whole other conversation about school choice. So, Harry Potter became a teacher for a while. In the middle of school, he became the peer teacher, right?
Abby Hayes: Oh yeah, he did become a peer teacher.
Robert Enlow: He taught the Defense Against the Dark Arts himself.
Abby Hayes: Yes.
Robert Enlow: Against Madam, what was her name … Mrs … Pink lady, pink lady.
Abby Hayes: The lady in pink. Oh, I can’t stand her. Umbridge.
Robert Enlow: Mrs. Dolores Umbridge.
Abby Hayes: Dolores Umbridge. She is absolutely the worst …
Robert Enlow: By the way, in Britain, do you know what umbridge means?
Abby Hayes: No.
Robert Enlow: To take umbridge?
Abby Hayes: Oh yeah. To be offended, right?
Robert Enlow: It means, to be offended, right. So basically her whole name was offensive.
Abby Hayes: She was just the worst. I know a well-acted character when I just hate them every time they come on screen, and I hate her more than I hate Voldemort. She is just a terrible person.
Robert Enlow: I shall not tell a lie.
Abby Hayes: Yes. Oh, there, you want to talk about regulations in schools and how over-regulating can cause problems. Dolores Umbridge, right there.
Robert Enlow: So, Dolores Umbridge is the problem with over-regulating public schools, right there, right? In fact, that’s a great scene. Remember how they start by tacking one rule up on the wall, and then Filch is ending up on this ladder that’s 19 freakin’ miles long.
Abby Hayes: There’s this whole wall of … Yeah.
Robert Enlow: And it’s all these regulations and no one knows how to act and behave.
Abby Hayes: Yeah. And they particularly try to regulate the Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, because they’re shutting out what’s going on in the world around them.
Robert Enlow: That’s correct.
Abby Hayes: Like, “Oh, maybe our students actually do need to know how to defend themselves.”
Robert Enlow: It’s interesting, some argue that our schools do not prepare kids for work and for jobs, and jobs in the 21st century. So in a way, that’s exactly what Dolores is doing by stopping the Defense Against the Dark Arts, basically, “Hey, we don’t care if you need a million new jobs in the healthcare industry, we’re going to go ahead and just ignore that and teach this way.”
Abby Hayes: Yeah, yeah.
Robert Enlow: It’s very interesting how that works. And what happened to all those rules in the end?
Abby Hayes: They all fell off the wall when Fred and George left. That’s one of my favorite scenes; I love that scene.
Robert Enlow: It’s a great scene. It’s a very good scene. All the regulations were upended and destroyed.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, and they found ways around them, too. I think that’s kind of an interesting, if you put enough pressure on a system, then you’re going to end up creating maybe systems that you don’t want. I mean, that’s why Harry becomes a peer teacher, right, is because they’re not learning anything in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and he says, “All right, you need to at least know how to disarm someone.”
Robert Enlow: So, that’s really interesting. The actual regulations and the top-down control leads to a school within a school, leads to within new ideas and new entrepreneurial ways of educating kids.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, that is interesting.
Robert Enlow: Interesting. That’s very cool.
We’re coming to the wrap-up time. We’re talking about Harry Potter, it’s been an amazing conversation. Let’s talk a little bit about the end of the book. When we started this conversation, Harry Potter was going to school and was unsure of what he wanted, what house he wanted to be in. In fact, chose his house through the Sorting Hat. We talked a lot about, “Harry Potter’s a drop-out,” or, “Harry Potter’s a teacher,” right? And we talked about how schools within schools look like.
And so, there was all this sort of continuum of sort of discussion about educational choice and education throughout the Harry Potter books. Now, we get to the last scene in the last book. What happened there?
Abby Hayes: They all bring their kids back and put them on the train to go to Hogwarts for their first year.
Robert Enlow: So that gives you chills, right?
Abby Hayes: It does.
Robert Enlow: So now, all of a sudden, the circle comes back. Why do you think they chose to do that?
Abby Hayes: Well, I mean, they have great connections. Obviously, well, from what we’ve talked about … They may not have other choices to educate their kids in magic, unless maybe they homeschool, that might be a thing. But they all have good memories of their time at Hogwarts. They obviously found it very valuable.
Robert Enlow: So what were the options? Let’s just think about this for a sec differently. What were the options that Harry Potter had for his kid to educate? I guess, home schooling?
Abby Hayes: I think so?
Robert Enlow: Yeah.
Abby Hayes: I mean, I suppose you could send them to a school in another country, but that seems like kind of a stretch.
Robert Enlow: So he could have sent them to the Romanian school, or I guess he couldn’t send them to the all-female school.
Abby Hayes: Yes, probably not.
Robert Enlow: But he could have sent them to another wizarding school. I guess he could have educated them in a Muggle school.
Abby Hayes: Seems dangerous.
Robert Enlow: He could have homeschooled, right?
Abby Hayes: Right.
Robert Enlow: But he chose Hogwarts. And I think that comes back to that sense of belonging, right?
Abby Hayes: Yeah, for sure.
Robert Enlow: And I think that’s part of the conversation about education and educational choice in America. The idea that education creates a sense of belonging, and when you choose, you feel even more connected to stuff. So maybe it’s really interesting, the power of choice creating that sort of familial and generational opportunity.
Abby Hayes: Yeah, I like that.
Robert Enlow: So, as Harry Potter is bringing his kids to school … And it’s interesting what happens to his kids. What happens to his son?
Abby Hayes: Well, Albus Severus gets sorted into, we find out later, that he becomes a Slytherin. That was maybe not expected, but Harry tells him, “It’s okay if you’re a Slytherin. One of the bravest men I ever knew was a Slytherin and you’re named after him.” Obviously Severus Snape.
I think that’s really cool to see, that Hogwarts has that sort of school within a school. There’s choices within … Maybe they don’t have a lot of good, viable options to educate their kids outside of Hogwarts, but within that, there’s these four different kind of personalities of ways to educate kids or ways that they can belong to a community, and they see the value in giving kids those options and saying, “You know, wherever you fit in, that’s okay.”
Robert Enlow: So that’s right, I think you said it best, Hogwarts is like a microcosm of school choice. And so you have all these options, and maybe Harry is saying to his son, “It’s okay to get in where you fit in, because choice is a good thing.”
So in the end, Harry Potter is ultimately a tale of choice and opportunity, a tale of belonging and freedom. It’s a tale of education, not building. Of learning, not school. So that’s interesting sort of discussion about how Harry goes from being in a school to being a leader. I mean, I just love the fact that he was a drop-out that did well, and then some of the characters, or all of them, dropped out, essentially in some ways.
Abby Hayes: A lot of them did, yeah.
Robert Enlow: And the Weasley brothers created this incredible store and are successful entrepreneurs. But the importance of education to get them a platform to jump off of.
Abby Hayes: Yeah.
Robert Enlow: So I think that’s what’s amazing about Harry Potter. I hope we have more Harry Potter conversations with different members of the staff, because as you said, we have a lot of people in here who want to talk about this. In fact, one of them wants to talk about the injustice of having to buy cauldrons and wands and all these school fees.
Abby Hayes: School expenses, that’s a big deal.
Robert Enlow: School fees. So we’re going to hopefully do more of these on EdChoice Chats. And obviously, we want your ideas as well. So if you guys want to send ideas about pop culture and school choice, email us at email@example.com. Obviously, we want you to get in touch with us and subscribe to everything we have. Subscribe to our podcast on SoundCloud, on iTunes and Stitcher.
Follow us on social media, which the Twitter is @edchoice, or obviously the old-fashioned way now, www.edchoice.org. Oh my God, I even said www. No one says that any more. So edchoice.org or Twitter or Facebook, we’re on all the platforms. We’d love to see people there. Thanks again for having us on another version of EdChoice Chats.
Abby Hayes: Thanks.