MuggleNet Academia 18: High School and Hogwarts — Did You Survive and Move on or Are You Still the Wizard Adolescence Made You? A Conversation with Professor Carrie Birmingham

Pepperdine University Associate Professor Carrie Birmingham is a teacher with experience in pre-schools, elementary grades, middle schools, and, yes, high schools. She is a published authority on a variety of subjects of the pedagogical variety, but, unusual for a “teacher of teachers” in Pepperdine’s Seaver College, Prof Birmingham is equally accomplished as a Potter Pundit. With articles in academic journals, college talks, and featured presentations at fandom gatherings, she is in the front row of academics discussing the Hogwarts Saga, especially the few intrigued by the school issues involved. Did I mention she has a web site on this theme? Check out ‘Harry Potter Goes to School.’

Prof Birmingham joined me. Letty Nardone of Byram Hills School District in New York, and MuggleNet’s Keith Hawk to discuss Harry Potter’s high school experience as compared to what we experience(d) in the equally unreal world. First read Jennifer Senior’s New York magazine article, Why You Never Leave High School: New Science on Its Corrosive Traumatizing Effects, the article that prompted Mrs Nardone to write us and suggest this podcast subject. If you’re an American that survived secondary education in the last fifty years or are going through that gauntlet now, I think you’ll be fascinated.

You’ll certainly be prepared for our conversation about what school does to our heads in our formative years — and how Ms Rowling plays with this social fact in her reinvention of the schoolboy novel. We discuss the Terrible Trio, but the Dark Lord, our Beloved Headmaster, the Marauders, and, of course, Severus and Lily to think again about to what degree our adolescent experiences, traumatic and identity shaping, make is who we are.

Enjoy! Below the jump, you’ll find more links to this program and to all the other MuggleNet Academia podcasts.

MuggleNet Academia Main Page:
Available Classes in Colleges and University:
Available supplemental books:
Past MuggleNet Academia PodCasts!

MuggleNet Academia 1: ‘Getting Serious with Series’ Literature, Conversation with Professor Suzanne Keen about Book Sets

Second MuggleNet Academia Show Features Our Headmaster and Edmund Kern

MuggleNet Academia 3: ‘Parseltongue, Gobbledegook, and Troll: On the Difficulties of Translating Harry Potter’

MuggleNet Academia: ‘The Law and Harry Potter’

MuggleNet Academia:  Whodunit? Harry Potter — In the Great Hall — With a Wand!

MuggleNet Academia: Folktale Structure and Potter Mania

MuggleNet Academia: Amy H. Sturgis and John Mark Reynolds

MuggleNet Academia 11: Psychology and Harry Potter

MuggleNet Academia 12: House-Elves — and House-Wives!

MuggleNet Academia 13: Political Science & the Hogwarts Saga!

MuggleNet Academia 14: Harry Potter For Nerds!

MuggleNet Academia 15: Harry Potter and Philosophy

MuggleNet Academia 16: Lev Grossman Talks Harry Potter

MuggleNet Academia 17: Harry Potter as Comic Book Super Hero

MuggleNet Academia 18: Hogwarts and Your High School Years


  1. Ooh can’t wait to listen to it (and check out her website – given my Harry Potter research area is the library angle, I’m always interested in anything folks are saying and writing about the school aspects! Fun!)

  2. Louise M. Freeman says

    Wonderful podcast… very thought-provoking!

    My one query is, what do the guests think of James Potter’s transformation from adolescent “arrogant toe rag” to the main saintly Lily could love and who would sacrifice himself for her and her child? He seems to buck the trend of solidifying his personality at 15 or so.

  3. Carrie Birmingham says

    Hi Louise,

    I agree that James’s personality underwent a big change. The Jennifer Senior article wasn’t about personality solidifying in general; it was about identity solidifying in adolescence. Granted, personality and identity overlap a lot. But it could be that James had a positive self-image as a toe-rag that stuck as he transformed into a good guy after adolescence. I do think, given our conversation about adolescence as a source of shame, that James would have some serious (Sirius?) shame to work through.

    In my opinion, the Senior article was lacking in its failure to account for the influence of heredity on the development of identity at all. I think we mentioned in the podcast that Voldy’s heredity (bad-guy family) and Harry’s heredity (good-guy family) may have contributed to their identities. I believe it was also off-base in its determinism–she seemed to think that adolescence determined identity and left no room for post-adolescent transformation. (Perhaps James’s adolescent shame + Lily’s love played a part in his transformation.)

    I hear from John that you’re a psych professor, so I know you’re familiar with Erikson. I know you didn’t ask about Harry and Tom Riddle, but your question got me thinking… I wonder if the year with James and Lily solidified Harry’s basic sense of trust, and an infancy in the care of Merope in the Gaunt household solidified in young Tom a basic sense of mistrust.

  4. Louise M. Freeman says

    Interesting… I considered that very question when prepping for my own podcast, though we didn’t get specifically into Erikson. It would fit, given that Harry was about 16 months old when he went to live with the Dursely’s… so most of the trust versus mistrust stage would have been spent with his good parents. Though it is hard to believe that the 10 subsequent years with Vernon and Petunia wouldn’t have undone a lot of that.

    As for Tom, his babyhood was spent at the orphanage, not at the Gaunts. While of course we don’t know how babies were treated at the institution and it is unlikely they got needs met to the same extent that parents would have, it didn’t seem to be that bad a place: the children were cared for, had medical care, toys, pets and even occasional seashore vacations. My guess is Tom was better off there than he would have been with Marvolo, Uncle Morfin or even Merope, who seemed to be the most psychologically traumatized character of the series. Harry would probably have been happy to swap the Dursely’s for Mrs. Cole. So I would attribute Voldemort’s psychopathy more to genes than environment.

  5. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this episode, as the parallels between the Trio’s Hogwarts experience never seemed to me to corrolate too strongly to real-world high school, but I found myself riveted. Great discussion, and two particularly smart guests!

  6. Hi Kat,

    Thanks for the compliment–I really enjoyed talking with Letty, John, and Keith. And you’re right about Hogwarts being different from real high school. It’s really different on the outside, so it’s interesting to us. But it resonates with the high school experience on the inside, so it’s interesting to us! It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, you know!


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