The best parts about the Harry Potter books are all the reminders of the traditional British school story and a childhood spent haunting the children’s library.
Hogwarts – like Greyfriars, St. Jim’s, Linley Court, St. Clare’s, Malory Towers and all the rest – is a direct descendant of the early Victorian Rugby School of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
Each school has its requisite heroes, eccentrics, poltroons, cads and bullies. Hogwarts is co-ed, of course, and comes with wizard gear and magic spells to overcome the forces of evil and oppression rather than mere human character and pluck.
But here’s a different kind of fictional school not out of that tradition. It comes to us via Dr. Seuss with the assistance of poet Jack Prelutsky and artist illustrator Lane Smith: Diffendoofer
I’ve always lived in Dinkerville,
My friends all live here too.
We go to Diffendoofer School–
We’re happy that we do.
It looks like any other school,
But we suspect it’s not.
I think we’re learning lots of things
Not taught at other schools.
Our teachers are remarkable,
They make up their own rules.
Teachers at Diffendoofer are more than eccentric. And one of them is Miss Bonkers:
My teacher is Miss Bonkers,
She’s as bouncy as a flea.
I’m not certain what she teaches,
But I’m glad she teaches me.
Look! Look!” she chirps. “I’ll show you how
To tell a cactus from a cow,
And then I shall instruct you why
A hippo cannot hope to fly.
She even teaches frogs to dance,
And pigs to put on underpants.
One day she taught a duck to sing–
Miss Bonkers teaches EVERYTHING!
Of all the teachers in our school,
I like Miss Bonkers best.
Our teachers are all different,
But she’s different-er than the rest.
Everything goes well at Diffendoofer until the day of the dreaded make-or break high stakes standardized test.
All schools for miles and miles around
Must take a special test,
To see who’s learning such and such –
To see which school’s the best.
But all is not lost. The threat of being consigned to Flobbertown (where everyone does the same thing and even the dog are afraid to bark) can be overcome. The children have been taught to think so they pass the dreaded test and save themselves.
We’ve taught you that the earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more —
We’ve taught you how to think.
Now that’s magic!