The Free Motion Quilting Project: Harry Potter is a Bad Example

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Harry Potter is a Bad Example

What in the world does Harry Potter have to do with quilting? Yeah, this is a bit of an odd post, but it's something that came up the other day while Josh and I were making dinner. I was chopping onions and James was talking about the part of the book where Harry learns how to fly.

Just in case you've never read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or it's been awhile, here's the gist:
Harry's class is outside learning how to fly on broomsticks. Harry's broom magically hops right into his hand and he feels somehow immediately warm and fuzzy about riding. His friend, Neville has a magical toy stolen by the bad kid, Draco, and he jumps on his broom and flies to catch it. 
He dives to catch the toy perfectly. Without ever having ridden a broomstick. Ever. 
I've read the Harry Potter books scores of times, and I never realized just how illogical this part was until the other night when Josh said something simple. "Doesn't that go against everything you know about building skill and talent?"

It was like Josh smacked me in the face with a frying pan! In high school I purchased the book on tapes and would listen to them any time my hands were busy crafting, which was pretty much all the time, but I never saw how monumentally silly this part of the book was.

Skill is never built instantaneously. I've never picked up a new tool, knitting needle, crochet hook, or piece of fabric and felt a sudden warmth in my arm and been able to magically do the task. It took me two years to learn how to crochet and another three to learn how to knit. I've never mastered any craft without practice, patience, and years of trial and error.

My view of skill is that it's a muscle that needs to be flexed over and over to become strong. Unlike popular belief, I don't believe talent is doled out in limited quantities to each person at birth. Talent is the product of building skill so the harder you work, the more talented you can become.

I hear from people on an almost daily basis with excuses like "I can't draw a straight line." "I can't thread a needle." "I can't sew on a button." My question is always - have you ever tried? How many times have you tried to do these things? Come back when you've tried it 100 times and I bet you'll be able to do it.

Harry, with absolutely no prior experience, having never even touched a flying broomstick in his life is suddenly able to jump on one and fly off with perfect skill and precision. Even worse, we're made to believe that this is innate, inborn talent because Harry's father was very skilled at broomstick riding.

That is like saying that my kid will be immediately gifted at quilting because I'm a professional quilter. He will sit down at my sewing machine, feel a warm tingle down his spine, and suddenly be able to machine quilt Stippling and Pebbling with no problem at all. Trust me, I've tried teaching my kid how to quilt, and this hasn't happened.

Talent is the product of hard work and skill building. Period.

But it's a MAGICAL world!

As I began mulling over the whole broomstick thing, I looked for loopholes. It's a magical world, so maybe Harry magically was good at flying on a broomstick.

That would work if the book included other examples of some kids showing up at school already mastering Transfiguration or Charms without any prior experience. But it doesn't. All other skills in the books are gained through years of study, practice, and patience.

And this leads to another point - the school would never have worked in the first place. The kids born in wizarding families would have such a great advantage over the muggle-born kids that there would be no contest.

These kids would have been riding broomsticks, stealing their parent's wand and playing with it, and interacting with magical plants and objects for eleven years. An eleven year advantage is the kind of gap that separates a violin soloist, Olympic level gymnast, and professional basketball players from the rest of us.

Hogwarts would have been filled with kids who had extreme skill and understanding of the magical world mixed with kids who had never seen or held a magical wand in their life. The gap would have been so huge, the muggle-born kids would have never caught up.

That might sound harsh, but I think kids need a dose of reality. Harry Potter is setting a bad example that skill is immediate and instantaneously built. This is just another thing leading kids to believe they can be whoever they want to be, do whatever they want to do, without actually having to work for it or be disciplined in the slightest.

This is a problem because going forward, kids are going to have to work harder than ever to create a secure future for themselves. I've been watching the shift of businesses from hiring lots of employees to hiring mostly contract labor. Contract work is cheaper because you don't have to provide benefits and when the work is done, the contract is over.

The new work force is going to have to be more flexible, creative, and entrepreneurial than ever before. The days of showing up to work and having a secure job for life are over. But if a kid has been raised to think they can be whoever and do whatever they want without working for it, how will they cope in this new reality? They won't.

So that one simple conversation making dinner with Josh has turned into quite a story, hasn't it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject so please share in the comments below!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. You hit 3 birds with one stone or should I say one broom or better yet, this post. It is thought provoking, while not being a new concept, this is a new presentation which will promote some to renew their thinking and start applying themselves more readily. With myself much included in this renewing. Or I could have just said, Thank You.

  2. I just read the first Harry Potter book for the first time. I think you're right about kids needing to build skills. But Harry Potter wasn't good at everything. He did have to study and learn all the other skills. We all do have something that we are natural at, but have to work at other things. Interesting and thought provoking though.

  3. Great post! I've noticed with the grand kids, they give up so easily...I can remember encouraging my kids and letting them know what a good job they were doing so they would continue to work on a project/craft. Grands won't give it a chance...they seem to give up so quick...but I still try to encourage them....different age/world I guess!!!

  4. Hi Leah,
    You make several good points and I agree with most of them. The point I disagree with is about children raised in wizard families having an advantage. They might, but it's not inevitable. A child of a musician, artist, chemist, mathmetician and so on, may have an advantage in the real world because their parent imparted their knowledge. But it doesn't mean it's unfair for them to go to school and take those subjects with other children who didn't. Mostly because the parent isn't teaching them everything they learned in their practice, because they (most) aren't fully capable of learning it all. I imagine the capacity for magical knowledge at a young age is like anything else. Just because you can show an 8 year old how to do calculus doesn't mean you should expect them to do it or understand it. We all exposed to different things growing up and that may or may not give us an edge.
    On all your other points I agree. :)

    1. I see your point, and mostly my issue was with the quiddich teams. Had these kids been riding broomsticks since the age of 4, there would be no way a kid outside of a wizard family would have had the skill to compete with them. It's kinda like Little League - the little boys that start playing at 3 are SO far advanced from the kids that start playing in 3rd or 4th grade. They understand the game, they've been hitting and catching for years. It's built-in muscle memory and the other kids would just be trying to catch up.

  5. Wonderful observation and a great lesson for all of us including our children and grand children. Anything worth doing takes patience and practice despite starts and stops, failures and successes. In our instant gratification society, it is a hard lesson to accept by many. Thanks for starting the discussion.

    1. You're so right - instant gratification! That's exactly the problem and it leads to a really destructive sense of entitlement. James is in karate and his teacher always starts each rank up test day with the same story of how he failed to rank up 3 times. It's a reminder to the kids that even when you show up to class, if you don't remember your stuff and work hard, you can fail. I've seen a lot of kids experience massive reality checks, and I think it's great for them!

  6. Most children know Harry Potter is fantasy - a fairy tale! I know my grand children did. Don't ruin this for your son. The books also emphasize cooperative behavior, good manners and mostly telling the truth, all worthy attributes. I have natural talents and then there are things I have to work harder at doing. What a thrill it is to suddenly realize that you are really good at something! It does happen.

    1. I see your point, however I should point out that Harry spends an awful lot of time breaking rules, cursing other kids, and lying about it. He's far from perfect and Ron is a downright jerk at times.

  7. Also, the wizarding world has decided that at the age of 11 kids no longer need to be taught maths, English, the sciences (kind of understandable with magic) art (how are moving portraits made?), or any of the other subjects they would have had up until then. There's, no P.E. apart from the very few students who play a few quiditch matches a year. They aren't taught other languages, although the foreign students speak English, unless that's another spell. Molly Weasley uses spells to cook, clean and knit, but kids aren't taught anything like that either.

    1. That's an excellent point as well, though I see parallels with real life here. Where are the classes on writing checks, paying bills, and washing laundry properly in high school? Unfortunately nonexistent.

  8. Your points are all good but we do need to remember that Harry Potter is a work of fiction. Anything can happen in fiction! The point is to make a good story that people will believe in regardless of what they do. Would everything that happened have worked in the real world? Certainly not but sometimes the point of a book is to take you where you would never have gone without the book. I love Harry Potter because it exercises the imagination.

  9. Yeah, well it is a 'magical' series and it is FICTION. That being said, practice does improve performance in most tasks. I also believe some folks have talent that no amount of practice will give to the masses. None of us can fly and I felt it was unrealistic to let kids believe they could go to college if it was plain they could not. As a successful parent of two grown kids and now 4 adult grands, I know the world knocks more confidence off our young people that we even could. I believe if the kid wants to try something you are sure won't work, let em. It's a life lesson too. We do need folks who don't go to college.

  10. I couldn't agree more! Although, I do believe in gifted people, e.g., natural athletes, math whizzes, etc. Yet, these gifts are raw talents which must be used over and over to excel. As for our children, hard work seems to be an outdated concept. As you mentioned, gone are the days of corporate responsibility to employees for training and tenure. So, today's employees (and future employees) need to self motivated and self sufficient in preparing a wide base of skills to bring to the job market. This preparedness applies equally to corporate, small and entrepreneurial businesses.

  11. Just another reason while I prefer the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" series!


Help us create more quilting tutorials! Check out our quilt shop at