Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus

Hogwarts_Crest_1Mamacita says:  Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus indeed. It’s advice we should all heed.  At the risk of exposing my Harry Potter obsession to the world – and it’s no doubt far too late to worry about that – I have been looking at the series with my teacher-eyes lately and have noticed some pretty awesome things.

At age eleven,  children were expected to know the basic skills and were plunged directly into applying them to the real world.

There’s nothing in any of the books about the students studying grammar or spelling, but there’s PLENTY about writing essays, and a lot of hints that these essays were read carefully and graded strictly.

Reading wasn’t a class; it was what the students used in EVERY CLASS.

I saw no mention of a regular math class, but I noticed  LOT of references to USING math to do other things.  Advanced students studied Arithmancy, for example.

There were no mention of biology or chemistry classes, per se, but there was plenty of scientific application.  Students were told to measure, count, plant, prune, mix, and transfer things from one container to another.  Test tubes, flasks, stoppered bottles. . . . students were expected to handle these and more, plus their contents. Potions class was chemistry class.

I also noticed that most classes were either lecture or hands-on, and that the hands-on classes usually followed a lecture, and featured a lot of low talking, groupwork, and expectation that anything mentioned in the lecture would be necessary in order to do the groupwork.

Oh, and there was HOMEWORK.  Lots and lots and lots of homework, which was expected to be done.

And the SARCASM!  Nasty sarcasm, from Snape, for example, is never nice, but a little sarcasm can be quite productive and do a lot of good.  At Hogwarts, the professors AND the students both knew how to appreciate sarcasm for its intrinsic value as a “prodder,” and also to learn by experience the difference between hurtful sarcasm and helpful sarcasm.  In other words, the students learned all about context by experiencing everything in its proper – and improper- context.

There was only once course that seemed to be sniffed at, by both teachers, administration, and students, and even that proved extremely useful in the end.  coughcoughcoughdivinationcoughcough

Students had free time.  Apparently unsupervised free time.  The professors assumed that the students had what it takes to handle themselves, whether the kids were roaming freely on the grounds or walking to the nearest town to spend the day as they wished.  And, since the kids were expected to be able to handle this, they did.

Every Hogwarts students was able to- sometimes eventually- find success at something.  Nobody was “left behind,” but many were soaring while others were still crawling.  The soarers were not required, or even expected, to remain on the ground just because someone else couldn’t leave it.  Yet.  The school’s professors were always willing to tutor, give extra time to, encourage, cheer, reach out of the box, and pass along compliments.

Peer pressure was rather encouraged, although not the bad kind.  The suggestion that a student who did poorly gave the entire House a bad name was enough to make the slackers buck up.  And the attitude of the other students toward a student who lost the House some points was enough to make the wrong-doer think twice about doing it again.

Students were often ashamed of themselves for failing, wrongdoing, or otherwise letting themselves or others down.  In our culture, personal shame is stifled, because people can’t help it, or were driven to it, or “made a mistake.”  Perhaps this lack of shame is why our public school students continue to do things a Hogwarts student would have far too much respect for himself and for others to do.

At Hogwarts, self esteem was only for those who earned it.  This is also as it should be.

I guess my question is, if Harry and his friends could do it, why can’t our kids?

Even in the upper grades, and even at the COLLEGE LEVEL, schools are still focusing on basic skills that Hogwarts expected of children when they were eleven years old.  Every textbook I’ve ever used taught and re-taught the same stuff, over and over.  Those students who “got it” at age nine are sitting in class with students who still haven’t “got it” at age seventeen, but nobody seems to care much about the students who KNOW this stuff ALREADY.  Why don’t we have accommodations for these kids?  Why do we require them to sit and endure the same stuff over and over again, when they’ve already proven mastery?  Why don’t we rejoice in their mastery and allow them to soar higher and higher, learning NEW things and applying them to the universe?  The sad fact that some kids can’t do it and never will should have nothing whatsoever to do with allowing those kids who CAN do it and are capable of even MORE to move onward and upward.

I’m thinking that perhaps Hogwarts policies weren’t just about magic; I’m thinking that Hogwarts policies were wise, practical, and enabled students to fly higher than any Quidditch player could possibly soar on a broomstick.

At Hogwarts, students were treated like soon-to-be-adults, expected to fulfill obligations, meet deadlines, and pass difficult, detailed exit exams.  Disruptions were almost non-existent, and students who just couldn’t get it were not allowed to enter the upper level classes.  It is insinuated that such students would end up as clerks, housemaids, servers, bus drivers, and service sector workers, etc.  There is nothing wrong with this.

Only the best students were allowed to go on, to soar, to learn, and apply.  They all started out at the same level, but nobody was held back because someone else in the class wasn’t ready or wouldn’t ever be ready.  It is hinted that the lower level students – those who just didn’t have the smarts or talents to soar – would be taught to run, or at least walk without tripping over every single thing, at least.  But in separate classes, not the advanced classes.  Which is AS IT SHOULD BE.

I think our own education systems might have a lot to learn from a fictional series about British schoolkids, in a school that seemed to really, really understand how to deal with them.  And it has nothing whatsoever to do with magic, unless we are speaking of the fact that education, done properly, is , indeed, a magical thing that will transport sincere learners into realms heretofore undreamed of. . . .

Hogwarts policies applied to areas other than “academics,” too.  It’s too bad our actual schools don’t have  policies such as this one:  “. . . be warned: Thieving is not tolerated at Hogwarts.”

Because in so many of our public schools, thieving is just something kids do because their self-esteem requires constant puffing up by the acquisition of property, and if the property is someone’s else’s, well, let’s chat with the thief about honesty, tap him on the wrist, and turn him loose again. As for the true owner of the stolen property, well, life isn’t always fair, you know.

To sum up:  Hogwarts policies rocked all the way, and most real public school policies can’t even keep time to the music.

Bonus points if you can translate the title and tell me why I used it.


Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus — 17 Comments

  1. “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”

    Never actually thought to compare the policies of Hogwarts against our own public school system but after reading this I see your point. A point that is valid and takes a unique spin on the way.

  2. I’m sorry, but you seem not to understand that Harry Potter is a fictional universe, which means that everything goes as the author wants it to. In real life, things aren’t as easy. That is why the school system is better in Hogwarts. And I disagree about the part where Hogwarts lets the students “who CAN do it” become better. There are plenty examples in the books of Hermione having already finished the assigned Charms or Transfiguration work and not having anything to do.

  3. nn so cosa significa tutto questo xkè io parlo italiano e qui c’è scritto in inglese ma sono sicura che le parole Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus sono le parole latine delle quattro case di Howarts .
    Ho cercato anche su internet le parole latine ma Dormiens e Titillandus non me le ha date però vedendo le immagini ho capito ke stava lo stemma di Hogwarts e c’erano quattro simboli : Grifondoro , Serpeverde , Tassorosso , Corvonero , e visto che le parole erano quattro pensavo che ognuna di esse rappresentava uno stemma delle case di Harry Potter.
    Ciao a tutti .

  4. This should be required reading for every parent and teacher in the world. You’ve really got a knack of saying “it” exactly right, lady. When’s your book coming out? I mean, you ARE writing one, right? Please? Can I pre-order it? Seriously, this is your best post yet.

  5. Jane, this is one of the best, wisest, most AWESOME articles on this subject I’ve ever read! PLEASE, PLEASE, write a book!!

    Random House, etc: If you haven’t begged this woman to write a book for you, you’re crazy.

    I’m printing this off and giving it to all the teachers and principals at our next meeting. The Princeys won’t like it but the teachers will. The smart ones, anyway.

    Bless you for your common sense, wit, and incredible wisdom.

  6. This is a timely article for me; my school is in the midst of trying to remake itself, and I’m thinking a LOT about the kinds of things we need to do (and believe) in order to make that happen. I might just print this and post it in my teachers’ room, if you don’t mind…

  7. Jess,
    Snape is the ultimo hero because he allowed love to overcome evil in his own soul. He allowed his love for Lily Evans to help him keep her son alive and safe. His love for Lily was stronger than his hatred of James, even. Think of the self-control Snape had to live under at all times, lest Voldemort know of his changed loyalties: control so strong that even Voldemort could not see beyond the facade!

    That Snape, at the very end, wanted Harry to know his real self and gave him the memories, was even more proof that Severus Snape was his own man from the moment Voldemort’s actions turned him to the side of good and not evil. Harry, of course, understood this at the end, and honored Snape by naming one of his own sons after him.

    Snape as a hero? Definitely. Both internally and externally. That Snape didn’t want to die with his motives unknown by Harry is proof positive of his humanity: his “I don’t want to die with the truth unknown by someone” thing.

  8. Oh, and I always remember the bumper sticker I saw at a RenFaire a few years back whenever I see this Latin phrase. It said, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.” We might all do well to remember that, eh?


  9. I can think of several reasons for the title (and I have a wonderful colleague who is our Latin teacher where I work, and she’s AWESOME! Her dog’s name is Olivander — Olive for short — if that gives you any insight into how much she even loves HP along with me. She even taught a summer class about HP that went in depth about name meanings and plot intricacies. It was nifty! *ahem* Beyond that, she is why I know what that saying in Latin means. Also…ummm…can you help me convince her that Snape is one of the most human characters — if not the most human character — in HP and completely redeemed by that exact humanity he shows throughout all the books?), so I’m curious as to your own reasoning. We’re currently re-reading the last book, and I can think of a couple reasons for never tickling a sleeping draco just in that book alone (and more if I stretch it out to other books).

    Could this comment of mine be any more convoluted, Mamacita?

  10. I spent the week being told all the things I need to change in order to teach better (not me, we all get this) while I am trying to jump through all their hoops.

    I wanted to do some thinking about what of the stuff I am being taught I want to incorporate.

    And then I see your post, which is beyond awesome.

    Is it that we do not tickle sleeping dragons because we should really bellow them into awareness and totally rock this system?

    I understand all of the objections to tracking, but the alternative is horrendous.

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