Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Harry Potter and the Inequity of the Wizarding Educational System

In part one of this (at least) three part series, I discussed Quidditch's several shortcomings as a legitimate sport and offered several tweaks that would make it a truly proud and noble game.  In this installment, I feel it necessary to discuss the atrocities committed each day by the faculty and staff at Hogwarts, the racism inherent in the system, and the apparent lack of attention given to special needs students.
A glaring issue that comes to mind in the Hogwarts educational machine is the House system.  First year students don an old pointed cap called the Sorting Hat, a magical device which reads the children's minds and sorts them into one of four Houses that were each founded by one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Godric Gryffindor's house supposedly values courage, bravery, nerve and chivalry; Rowena Ravenclaw's house values intelligence, creativity, learning and wit; Helga Hufflepuff's house values hard work, patience, justice and loyalty - though Hufflepuffs are treated as rejects in the novels; and Salazar Slytherin's house values ambition, cunning, leadership and resourcefulness and - oh yeah - blatant Naziism.
You see, the wizarding world is fractured into a hierarchy.  The echelon of this hierarchy in which you are born essentially determines the course of your life forever.  The hierarchy is as follows:

Fig. 1: You can debate all you want where Mudbloods and Squibs belong in this hierarchy, but this is how I see it.  And I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

Purebloods are magical people descended from two parents with magical abilities as well.  Half-bloods are born to one magical and one non-magical (muggle) parent, but happen to have magical abilities.  Mudblood is a largely derogatory term for any person born with magical abilities to two non-magical (muggle) parents.  Some pure bloods, including the followers of Voldemort, look on Mudbloods as thieves: people that have somehow stolen the secrets of magic thought ought to be cast out.  A main character, Hermione Granger, is referred to as a Mudblood by members of the Slytherin house due to her being born to two decidedly unmagical British dentists.  If ONLY British dentists could work magic.
Squibs are a trick of magical genetics and are considerably rare.  They are the non-magical offspring of two wizards.  So rare are they in fact, that I can only recall two squibs mentioned in all the novels: Argus Filch and Arabella Figg.  Squibs apparently have some privileges not granted ordinary muggles.  Argus Filch is the spying, curmudgeonly custodian at Hogwarts.  Arabella Figg recognizes a Dementor attack and is allowed to enter the Ministry of Magic to defend Harry in court when he is on trial for using magic in the vicinity of muggles – an offense carrying a penalty of expulsion from Hogwarts.
Muggles are all non-magic people.  Salazar Slytherin and his adherents believed that muggles were inferior to wizards and ought to be enslaved.  In fact, when the Ministry was infiltrated by the Death Eaters (followers of Voldemort) and a puppet state instituted, a statue called “Magic is Might” was erected.  A direct quote from the text helps us here:

“A gigantic statue of black stone dominated the scene.  It was rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and a wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones…Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words MAGIC IS MIGHT….Harry looked more closely and realized that what he had thought were decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards.”

Fig. 2: Was the goddamned wizarding world so oblivious to have missed the fact that World War II and the Holocaust happened?

Those “stupid, ugly faces” belonged to muggles.
So let’s review.  Hogwarts School has a house founded by a racist eugenicist that still adheres to a doctrine that renounces entire populations based on their pedigree.
Even Ron Weasley, Harry’s best friend, is quoted as saying: “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”  And the Sorting Hat’s song in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix goes:
“Said Slytherin, ‘Let’s just teach those
Whose ancestry is purest.’”
For centuries the school has bred wizards that value ethnic purity and racism.  Is it any wonder that the most dangerous threat to the entire wizarding world, including the extended world outside of Britain, was educated and trained by the staff at Hogwarts!  If Hogwarts were to completely sever its ties to Salazar Slytherin and actually preach the values of embracing people of all backgrounds, the tragedy of Tom Riddle’s transformation into Voldemort and the ensuing battle of Hogwarts could’ve been entirely avoided.  Countless lives could have been spared with simple educational reform.
This of course brings up another important flaw in the Hogwarts system.  There is apparently no place or even tolerance for witches and wizards of special needs.  Now here I completely disregard the fact that Hogwarts does not educate Squibs.  This in itself shows a level of elitism.  Several courses offered at Hogwarts have absolutely nothing to do with magic!  It is understandable that Squibs may not be able to complete courses such as Charms or Defense Against the Dark Arts, but what in the world prevents a person incapable of performing magic from learning:

  • Herbology
  • Astronomy
  • Potions
  • Muggle Studies
  • Study of Ancient Runes
  • History of Magic
None of these courses require magic; just a will to study and a love of learning!  And yet, the racism inherent in the wizarding world relegates Squibs to essential second class citizenship.  Filch is made a custodian.  Arabella Figg's credibility is brought into question during judiciary proceedings simply because of her being a Squib!
But what about students with learning disabilities not related to their genetic origins?  A great example of what happens to them exists in the books.  Rubeus Hagrid is the groundskeepers at Hogwarts and spends a few semesters as the Professor of Care and Keeping of Magical Animals.  Hagrid is known for his simple intellect.  And because of his inability to defend himself logically, he is framed and expelled from school because he was falsely accused of unleashing a Basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets in the school.  Hagrid is denied an education.  He is forbidden from practicing magic.  He is given a menial job.  Ultimately Hagrid is forced to hide his wand in an umbrella.  And rather than having the privilege of riding a broomstick, the preferred method of locomotion for wizards, Hagrid must use an enchanted muggle motorcycle to travel.  HE IS TREATED LIKE A MUGGLE.  And as we have already well established, being a muggle is essentially a crime.
And what of disabled wizards?  Arianna Dumbledore, the sister of Hogwarts' headmaster, was traumatized as a child and was incapable of controlling her magic.  On one occasion, she lost control of her magic, causing an explosion that killed her mother.  Rather than treating Arianna and offering her assistance, she essentially made a prisoner in her own home.  Because Hogwarts doesn't offer any sort of special education, Arianna would have been locked away in St. Mungo's hospital for witches and wizards.
Now, please don't get me wrong.  I'm not calling JK Rowling an elitist, a racist or a eugenicist.  I'm simply pointing out how all-pervasive racism is in Harry Potter.  And perhaps it makes the series all the more interesting.  But seriously folks, how could any school in its right mind in the modern era allow Slytherin house to continue existing?

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