On the Integration of Subjects/Arts (Educational Insights from Hogwarts, Part 5)
As I continue this series on educational insights we glean from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I have decided to skip three of the educational decrees because they have a great deal of overlap and are related more to the administrative side of the school and the handling of punishments. Educational Decree #25 made the High Inquisitor, Dolores Umbridge, responsible for all punishments. Educational Decree #28 made Umbridge the Headmistress after the departure of Albus Dumbledore. Finally, Educational Decree #29, not officially passed but discussed, would have allowed corporeal punishment of students. There certainly could be interesting issues raised with the nature of discipline at a classical Christian school, so perhaps I will return to those at some later time.
The next educational decree passed in the book is #26, which bans teachers from speaking to students on topics outside of their subjects. The motivation behind this move is an example of censorship (also the topic of Decree #27) and organizational/ government micro-management. The Ministry aims to suppress a particular message set forth by Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore, and this move aims to keep teachers from addressing that message.
But the separation of subjects in this manner speaks to a larger problem in education. In many contexts, teachers are perhaps not forbidden by law from speaking to another subject, but they often self-impose such restrictions by claiming that they aren’t an expert in that field. Too often teachers are unwilling or unable to integrate their subject with another and speak intelligently about that other subject, leaving their students in a precarious situation. One problem stemming from such an approach is that the student is unable to receive an answer to a question he or she might have. Another effect would be that the student begins to believe that these subjects do not overlap, that knowledge can neatly be compartmentalized into subjects. Worse, the teacher’s ignorance, coupled with no desire to pursue that knowledge, can cause the student implicitly to understand that the knowledge is unimportant. If a teacher does not know about the subject, has no desire to learn about the subject, and makes no meaningful connection between his own class and that other subject, the student would almost certainly conclude that his or her own study of that subject is not worth the effort.
Rather, if a teacher could and would draw meaningful connections across subjects, demonstrate a basic knowledge of the subjects the students are taking, and show a desire and willingness to continue learning in that subject himself, then students would begin to see the inherent value in their education and begin to integrate the subjects with one another. They would learn that their medieval history, art, science, mathematics, and literature courses all work together to weave a tapestry of medieval life and what that can teach us in our context today.
So at a classical Christian school, there is no place for teachers to say “that’s not my subject” and move on without further exploration. The classical Christian school is a pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty in the things which have been created as they point to the God who created them. That means that while teachers don’t need to be experts in every subject, they should be lifelong learners who are willing to pursue students’ lines of inquiry and to make connections with other subjects as often as possible. As students learn to make those connections themselves, having seen it modeled and praised by their teachers, the knowledge that they retain will not be thin strands of facts, but a strong, interwoven tapestry of truth, goodness, and beauty.