Both of my kids are starting at new schools this fall, and it’s daunting. I have had to take a long look in the mirror and ask myself about education, and what it is, and what I want for them. How do I really teach them ? How do I get them excited about learning? How do I train them and equip them for their futures?
A part of our summer routine has floated easily into being a part of our fall routine – reading Harry Potter out loud before bed. We find it ideal to spend a bit of time at Hogwarts between finding pajamas and brushing teeth. I try not to end on a dark note, but sometimes it can’t be helped. When you are fighting evil, there are moments you have to look at evil and know what it is. There is a great deal to be learned at Hogwarts, and it’s often very inspiring to see how it applies to daily life.
My own education taught me to speak French, waltz gracefully and ride a horse, which prepared me to be a very successful 18th Century aristocrat. Not many career tracks require these skills. The work that I do did not really exist when I was getting educated (certainly there were writers and yoga teachers, but working in very different ways than I do now) and I know that is most likely the path that my children are walking. Into the Forbidden Forest with a few good tools and hopefully some good friends.
When I think about an education that will really prepare them for life, there are many facets to be taken into account – language skills, math and creativity are essentials. I am convinced that ethics are central, and a good education is about more than how much money we can pour over their heads.
We need to be consistent in our messages, or we are raising a generation of reflexive hypocrites, who will not notice anything strange about doing one thing and saying another.
We need to stop using fundraisers like wrapping paper and cookie dough when we are teaching them about environmental stewardship and healthy eating habits, or what we are really teaching them is that it’s fine to create more garbage and get fat as long as it’s about money.
We have to stop teaching them that money is the reason for everything, and that the need for money excuses whatever we do to get it.
In the Harry Potter series, Rowling makes the point over and over that power must be used with both wisdom and humility to be effective. Hogwarts has as many outstandingly bad teachers as it has good ones, and our heroes learn as much and often more from the bad examples as they do from the good ones.
Fundraising is not just something we do to support education; it is part of their education. We ask the kids to sell the candy, to ask Grandma to order the greeting cards so that sales is something they need to learn early on. Then we make it about competition and success (sell more than anyone else in your class and win a prize) so that the kids with the strongest sales pitch (or the most aggressive parents, or the biggest collection of generous cousins) get a round of applause for the money they raised. Do we give the same amount of applause to the winners of the spelling bee, or the matheletes? How many evenings are going to be split between homework and hustling? Most importantly, what do they learn from all this ?
Just as Harry Potter required an education in magic to truly be his best self, he also learned that magic was not always the answer. Money is important – but it’s not everything. When we educate our kids to be the their best selves, they need to know that a good life is about more than a good income. Otherwise, we are creating another generation of CEO’s who won’t think there’s anything wrong with crushing the work force or outsourcing their jobs to create more profits.
In the climactic battle of Hogwarts (spoiler alert- I already read the whole series years ago) Harry does not overpower his antagonist – he outsmarts him. He is able to do that because he has been paying attention, and he truly learned from observing all the examples set before him.
So I am helping with the homework, and creating more projects to give my girls what are I hope are the skills to succeed in the 21st Century. We ride bikes and not horses, we learn Spanish not French, and a freestyle boogie is every bit as good as a waltz. Money is like a magic wand; an important tool. But knowing what you can do with your own hands, with your own fingers and most of all your own mind – that’s an education.