I feel that it’s only reasonable to write a response to Tilda Swinton’s assertions that ‘Harry Potter romanticizes boarding school and this is damaging to children.’
In an earlier life, I read the entire Harry Potter series and watched at least three of the movies (I preferred the books). I’m not going to endorse Harry Potter or critique the series here, but I do have an acquaintance with the contents of the stories.
I also attended boarding school from 2nd grade through 12th, with a few breaks in between.
There were aspects I hated about boarding school (mostly missing my parents and preferring to be at home), but there were aspects I really appreciated about boarding school too.
I mostly liked and appreciated my dorm parents. I had some good roommates, I had more than one best friend, I had other good friends, and even had a boyfriend for a short while.
I rarely felt isolated or stressed to the point that I would call my experiences there “hell,” although sometimes I really did feel stressed as well as challenged, and I didn’t always enjoy the experience.
The reasons for that were several: no one was nice to everyone else all the time (not even me!); teen girls can behave like vicious piranhas under certain unfortunate circumstances, but this is true in public and private schools that don’t take boarders too, and not at all unique; and even dorm parents and teachers aren’t immune to having a bad day or totally losing their patience at times.
I can understand why Tilda Swinton might not have enjoyed her boarding school experience, especially if she attended one only in her teens–which seems to be the British model, but I found there were definite advantages to being at boarding school instead of at home.
In elementary school, at boarding school I could go swimming with my friends at the school swimming pool after three just about every afternoon, except when the pool was under repair. There were trips to the nearest big city to go shopping, trips to the beach, trips up the mountain to the falls, and trips to the nearest “swimming hole”.
I loved to swim and hike, I was an indifferent shopper, but I loved eating local foods. I loved roller skating and a game we called “Hunter,” dodge ball, floor hockey, playing in the band, and anytime I got to do anything creative. I especially loved it when my parents came to visit and we did these activities together. I also earned fairly decent grades after I decided to take studying more seriously.
I enjoyed the church services every Sunday that were all in English, unlike church services at home which were mostly in Indonesian and Citak (pronounced CHEE tuk). I learned a lot in our Bible Study groups, and particularly enjoyed it when our group met at the home of a teacher who brewed his own root beer! I also enjoyed evening devotions and singing hymns and choruses with the other kids in the dorm.
In high school, there were more shopping trips and adventures on our own without the dorm parents, and sadly, not much swimming. I couldn’t go home as much, and my parents only came twice, but there were also visits to friends’ homes on vacations, and more activities at the school and opportunities to participate in and contribute to the spiritual life of the community, as well as a missions trip to an orphanage.
I didn’t love everything I was asked to do at boarding school. I particularly disliked softball and soccer, and just about anything else athletic that wasn’t roller skating, swimming, floor hockey or hiking. I thought for the longest time that life would have been perfect if only they’d lived near where I was attending school.
Why was I sent to boarding school?
Parents make use of boarding schools for practical reasons that have far more to do with wanting their kids to receive a quality education than with any idea of their kids being unloved, unwanted, or inconvenient.
Wanting your kids to receive a quality education that teaches them how to be a success at life is a very loving desire.
At the time when I attended boarding school, homeschooling was in its infancy and wasn’t a particularly practical choice where we were, because everything had to be done by us–no convenient shortcuts (like dishwashers, automatic clothes washers and dryers, microwaves, supermarkets–all the conveniences of civilization that we have here in the U.S.
When you’re spending extra time butchering and processing your own meat, dealing with dirty laundry 3 times a week (because otherwise it would rot), washing mountains of dishes by hand with water heated by you…even with hired help to do some of the cooking and cleaning, time to do school is in short supply unless your child is actively engaged with the material and willing to study on their own.
I couldn’t attend the local school taught in Indonesian because I wasn’t Indonesian, and even if I could have, rote memorization of their curriculum (their preferred method of teaching) would not have prepared me for college once I returned to the U.S. Then there was the language barrier.
I was never in any doubt that my parents loved me very much or that Mom struggled particularly with having to let us go so far away to school.
I always thought that I would prefer to be taught at home…at least until I “got” to stay home for five or six weeks because we were all under medical quarantine.
I absolutely hated it!
I turned out to be a terrible home school student: I missed my classmates, I missed my roommates, I missed my friends. I hated sitting in a room at a desk all by myself to do my schoolwork! I resented my parents’ insistence that I had to do my studies anyway, there were tears, sorrow, gnashing of teeth, and generally I was a very miserable wretch who drove everyone around me to utter distraction!
My brother was under quarantine too, but we weren’t allowed to study together because we pestered each other until Mom couldn’t take it.
My parents resorted to bribery: in exchange for catching up with my studies, they sent me off with a wonderful nurse who lived near us to visit another station for a couple of weeks.
When we returned, my family flew to a station in the mountains where my feet were cold all night and the mice ran relay races, and thumped and bumped, and shrieked shrilly in the walls all night long, and we all got terrible colds, and had lots of adventures, but my parents couldn’t do any of their work, so we were “on vacation.”
And finally everyone decided that the quarantine wasn’t necessary and I was permitted to return to boarding school, and life returned to the normal I was used to. Hallelujah…
Do I recommend sending your kids to boarding school? Not unless that’s what you need to do for their best good.
Do I think it’s damaging to children that Harry Potter got sent to a boarding school (or any of his friends did)? No.
That’s the beauty of fiction: you can appreciate someone else finding themselves in odd or unusual circumstances without having to experience those same circumstances for yourself!
And I do not agree that the Harry Potter books romanticized boarding school. I only need to mention one name: Dolores Umbridge, and you’ll probably know why!
Even if boarding school isn’t the romantic ideal in education, it can be a perfectly normal and reasonable experience for kids who need a quality education and can’t get it in another way.
That doesn’t mean your kids will want to go there or that you should send them to one just because they read about kids attending a boarding school in a work of fiction.
But neither are they going to be traumatized or damaged somehow by reading stories that have boarding schools in them either.
In my books, no one attends boarding school (at least so far), but my characters do have lots of fun going on adventures. Check them out!