Confirmation at Hogwarts: When parents disapprove

Part 6 of a series exploring practical applications of the Harry Potter series in a Christian youth formation context. Introduction here.

We’ve just finished a set of posts about teacher skills, training, and selection, and now I want to move on to three posts on some of the interpersonal issues that come up at Hogwarts, and in our Confirmation classes as well. For all of its magic, Hogwarts has some very familiar dynamics when it comes to teaching. In the next posts, we’ll look at what happens when youth don’t like each other, and what happens when the teacher doesn’t like one of the youth. But for today, we’re going to talk about when parents disapprove of a teacher. (*spoiler alert* is still in effect.)

In The Goblet of Fire, the truth about Hagrid’s parentage comes out when Rita Skeeter reports that Hagrid is half-giant, leaving him vulnerable to angry parents, calling for his dismissal. This comes on top of the trouble he experienced in The Prisoner of Azkaban with the hippogriff injuring Draco Malfoy (I really don’t care whose fault that was), which continues to dog Hagrid’s teaching career.

Hagrid hides in his cabin and when Ron, Hermione, and Harry arrive, they find Dumbledore already there trying to convince him to return to teaching.

“I have shown you the letters from countless parents who remember you from their own days here, telling me in no uncertain terms that if I sacked you, they would have something to say about it – “

“Not all of ‘em,” said Hagrid hoarsely. “Not all of ‘em wan’ me ter stay.”

“Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time,” said Dumbledore, now peering sternly over his half-moon spectacles. “Not a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?”

I think we can all agree the answer to that question is, no. When issues come up, and they will, we need to address them.

Both Kellor and I have written blog posts about working with parents. You can find them all at the parents tag, but I particularly recommend Kellor’s post on When parents or youth berate you and mine on 5 steps to improve communication with parents.

But I think one thing that is true with Hogwarts parents is true with non-Hogwarts parents as well: mostly, they want to be reassured that their children are going to be safe. That includes physical safety but it’s not limited to that.

For example, when you hear from a parent, “My youth can’t come to confirmation class because there’s an important [X],” dollars to donuts the parent is doing a complicated calculus that concludes, “My child’s future will be safer by doing X” – getting into a good school, having a good job, etc. etc.

One of the great gifts of the Confirm not Conform program is that the option not to be confirmed is baked into the system as a legitimate and faithful choice. When we’ve gotten pushback on that, it has almost always been from parents, and behind the pushback, I hear again the question of safety. The calculus here is, “If they don’t get confirmed, they’ll never come back to church, and they’ll make bad choices, and they’ll end up in a godless wasteland strung out on drugs.” “Getting them confirmed” is viewed by some parents as a spiritual safety net. And if there’s no net, they get very anxious. Our job is to provide the reassurance that making that faithful choice is actually safe, giving youth a healthy connection with their own beliefs and with a church that will support and love them.

Of course, parents have legitimate complaints, and some things are legitimately unsafe. I do not want to suggest otherwise. But when the complaints seem to be coming from left field, and you’ve consulted with trusted advisors and colleagues to check your perceptions, then look for the question of safety. And at all times look for the ways you can convey to parents, “Your child is safe here.”