Part of the problem with the modern model for education, and the one that makes it into most modern American novels, because that’s what the authors know best, is that it’s one-size-fit’s all. This is barely tenable for our mundane world, and you can immediately see where it would break down in a world with magic. If you postulate a world with both magical and non-magical beings, then suddenly boarding schools (sorry, Chris) make a lot more sense, because they allow you to quarantine…. er, segregat… no, that’s no better! Isolate the potentially dangerous children while they learn their skills and most importantly, the discipline to control those skills.
What about those who cannot or will not practice self-control? Most children in this world learn how not to bite or hit, because negative reinforcement both in preschool and at home pounds that lesson home early and often. However, the consequences of the sociopath in a magical world are much more far-reaching than a bully worming his or her way through the school system here. A magic user has to be held in check by more than manners, then, as we develop our system. The teachers must be more capable and powerful than the students… or we wind up with the Lord of the Flies.
I’m speaking from experience, here. I had a very rough year with my son after he’d returned to my custody after a few years with his father. He was dealing with random, uncontrollable rages that would occasionally spring up out of nowhere, and any time his will was thwarted we would all brace for the storm. In desperation, I reached out to a group of friends and asked for help with ideas on how to help him gain more self-control, and keep us all safer. He would throw, hit, and kick things (and people) but also tell us that he didn’t want to do this, and he wanted more rules – which wasn’t quite the case, but it was the only way he knew how to express that he wanted us to make it stop. He was out of control of himself and it was frightening to watch. Reworking that experience into a magical school would allow for a bad situation to be turned into something much more dramatic…
One of the pieces of advice we were given over and over was that we should take him for martial arts classes. We resisted this, not willing to hone his rages into a weapon he could do even more targeted damage with. A magic user doesn’t need to learn how to use their power better, they need to learn discipline first. My son, after a year of consistent and careful discipline – not to avoid provoking rage, but to give him a sense of stability and security – is now in a place where we are ready to teach him things like handling weapons. We know he won’t insensately hurt someone only to be devastated for a lifetime afterwards.
When writing a magical school, keeping this in mind will create a deeper and richer world-building experience for the reader. Not that magic use creates a more mentally unstable society, but that the capacity for harm is so much higher, the consequences of childish temper could be horrific. I can’t offhand recall where the quote originates, but it is especially true for the magic world, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
In Chris’s initial post on boarding schools, one of the issues he had and has with them is their lack of socialization. Children running in packs of their own peers are not socialized. Socialization is properly the ability to interact respectfully with all those around them regardless of age, sex, or skin color. Expecting children separated out into peer groups to develop this spontaneously is an impossibility. Human nature defies it. So if we posit a school that is magic users separated for their own good and the good of the the mundane part of their world, we will have difficulties with the reintegration into society after their education is complete. Aside from the natural if immature assumption that they are somehow better for having special powers, they will have been exposed to their peers pack mentality of them against the world – teachers, while in school, the ‘others’ outside that environment.
However, as well as being fun to read, the magical schools book give us a glimpse of the problems inherent in school systems through exaggeration of the difficulties both in surviving the system as a child, and in teaching children who are gifted, or difficult, or simply not the average run-of-the-mill kid. My perspective as an adult writing them (or reading them) is different than it was when I was a kid reading them – and as I was already a mother when Harry Potter brought the sub-genre back to worldwide attention and popularity, I had encountered few examples as a homeschooler. I just knew I was different. Magic school books could be good examples of how to deal with being different in school for young readers.
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