Originally published by Robert Beisert at fortcollinsprogram.robert-beisert.com

Harry Potter and The Glory of Trade Schooling

For some reason that I can no longer comprehend, Harry Potter is the cultural root of most people on the Internet. Many on Twitter seem to only understand complex topics in terms of the books and movies of J.K. Rowling, and they read whatever they feel into those books. In that same spirit, I want to look at the wizarding world displayed in the books and movies to show that wizards are basically educated at a specialist trade school.

Specialty Classes

First, we have to notice that wizards are chosen for their aptitude and nothing else. If you want to get into Hogwarts (heck, if you want to get anywhere wizards live), you have to have an aptitude for magic. Muggles are kept out through a host of spells and protections designed to prevent them from even knowing wizardry exists (which could be an article of itself – how wizards are all inherently racist).

When they have demonstrated aptitude, they are brought into special schools where they only study topics related to their craft. Nowhere in the books do you find anything resembling liberal arts, unless you count the one class on History of Magic. In fact, the only way to learn concepts like math or cultural studies is to take on additional coursework related to them (arithmancy, which may not be math as we understand it, and Muggle studies, which only Hermione took so far as we know). Gone are classes on biology, chemistry, and literature and language study, replaced by intensive study into the production of potions and the performance of spells of various kinds.

This is more significant than most realize. Because wizards study these things, they are ignorant of basic concepts like the function of a rubber duck (hint: it’s there to float in water to amuse children), wizarding and non-wizarding literature (I assume they have some version of Mobius Dickum in the library that is coated in dust),¬†and non-wizarding history of any sort. In exchange, they are able to do things that would otherwise be impossible, from changing rats into water goblets to teleporting and creating vials of liquid luck.

Furthermore, it is not clear that generalized wizards understand the core concepts behind any of the spells or potions they create. They know the forms for hundreds of different spells and potions, but they do not know how to create new ones, themselves (this is evident from what little we hear about experimentation, largely that it’s bad and dangerous and no one in their right mind would do it). This very closely resembles the work of, say, plumbers – they know how to lay and repair plumbing, but they do not know what is necessary to themselves create the pipes or design new pipes and fixtures.

Continuing Education

There are two ways to continue wizarding trade education. The first is to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in one aspect of the craft to merit further study under a master. This is accomplished using a standardized test, but it could similarly be accomplished without these tests (given the fact that there’s just the one school and its masters monitor all the activities of the students). Following the testing, students may choose to leave and practice their trades or stay and study only that for which they have shown sufficient proficiency. This closely resembles the Montessori model of education, where an individual’s natural aptitudes are used to direct his or her further education. Basically, this second phase of schooling exists to help wizards achieve their own ultimate potentials.

The second way is to study independently. The books demonstrate that Hermione, in particular, studies substantially more texts and theories than her compatriots. As a result, she is capable of performing highly-specialized, very complex magics that are not taught in school (including that nifty spell-stack she used to make their camps invisible and untraceable in the seventh book). This resembles modern education as well, because once we have the general information taught in schools we must build upon that with independent study and research to perform useful specialty work.


I know hundreds of people who would prefer to live in the world of Harry Potter (fantasy seeking, I find from experience, holds us back from achieving our full potentials in the real world). Even so, they adhere to perhaps the least-effective form of education (that is, public education under Dewey’s paradigm, which brings all people down to the lowest-common potential of the collective) instead of the education paradigm expressed in their favorite novels.

I think a closer analysis of the Harry Potter novels will demonstrate to even the most ignorant and naive that trade schooling is the best way to maximize your education and earnings potential, especially at younger ages when earning potential is at its lowest and learning potential is at its highest.