Call me a Muggle. Until this past weekend, I’d never seen a Harry Potter movie. I’d never read a Harry Potter book. But after the 12-year-old in the family my husband and I were visiting dragged all of us to a pilgrimage to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the 12-year-old for the second time!), I resolved one thing: If I had a kid of my own, I’d enroll him or her in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
I don’t mean the online Hogwarts, the promotional website-cum-chatroom sponsored by Warner Bros., maker of the Potter films. I mean the real Gothic thing. Just for starters, I highly approve of institutions of learning that require both students and faculty to wear not just coats and ties but academic gowns as well. That’s a sign of serious interest in education. I like the way students address their professors, and professors their students, by honorifics. It’s “Professor McGonagle,” and it’s “Mr. Potter.” None of that “Hi, I’m Bill, and I’m your teacher” blue jeans ‘n’ mussed hair stuff. The academic staff at the Hogwarts School does not try to be cool. Hogwarts inculcates formal manners and professional dignity.
Nor is there any attempt to make the Hogwarts curriculum “relevant.” I didn’t detect so much as a computer under the Perpendicular tympani of Hogwarts, much less a student trying to crib tomorrow’s spells assignment off the Internet. Indeed, the rule seems to be that homework must be tendered handwritten on parchment. Although Hogwarts is coeducational, and its students hail from every country and ethnic group on the planet, they are not required to read “The Vagina Monologues” or the latest screed by Maya Angelou for the sake of “diversity.” The Hogwarts reading list clearly includes quite a bit of Shakespeare (the glee club works up a polyphonic “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” from “Macbeth” for a term-opening ceremony). Best of all, Hogwarts students must acquire a classical education–because the spells are in Latin. “Exspecto Patronum!” shouts Harry (Danielle Radcliffe) over and over as he practices with his wand. The Latin teacher in me heartily approves.
Hogwarts is not all work and no play, however. Wholesome sports, such as the soccer-like “quidditch” played on broomsticks, expose the youngsters to fresh air, exercise of the limbs, and lessons in playing fairly and losing gracefully. There are properly chaperoned excursions into town. Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and the other young ladies of Hogwarts do not pierce their navels or engage in that unseemly display of derriere-flesh known as “plumber butt.” Hogwarts students of neither sex chew gum, use profanity, loll for hours in front of the Comedy Channel, or learn all the lyrics to Eminem tunes. There is no such thing as a mall anywhere near Hogwarts. From matriculation to graduation, Hogwarts exposes its students to books, oil paintings, scientific instruments, and other accoutrements of civilization.
In short, Hogwarts doesn’t simply educate its students thoroughly, but it teaches them that education is an important business. It prepares them for the things in life that are important. When our party left “Prisoner,” some of us chose for their favorite character the dotty divination professor Sybill Trelawney (Emma Thompson). Some chose the Hippogriff, the lovable computer-generated campus monster. But my favorite Hogwarts denizen was the fearful and long-faced Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). “Page thrreeee hundrred ninety-fouurr,” he would intone to his terrified class. You’d better know what was on that page.
So where could I sign my kid up?