Dumbledore and Turning a Blind Eye

How to let kids be kids without endorsing it

When I was a teenager, my friend and I went to Hogi Yogi. (It’s like Subway with frozen yogurt. Well, it was.) My friend had a locals card that got him a free drink with his sandwich. “Hey can my friend have a free drink, too?”

“No,” the sandwich guy said. And he handed over two cups.

It was a simple way for the sandwich guy to say, sure, it’s not a big deal, without endorsing it. If we ever came back and said hey, the other guy gave us an extra free drink, he could deny it.

Better yet, that singular act made me a much more loyal customer.

The thing is, schools have to have a million different CYA (google it) policies that teachers must adhere to or they’re walking on very thin ice. As soon as the littlest thing goes wrong, we’ll probably have parents and the local media in our faces, calling for our resignation and incarceration.

But CYA policies basically restrict the ability to have any fun, and if you’re not having fun, you’re probably not learning very much. It’s this weird paradox where we can’t allow certain behavior but if we want to be good teachers, we can’t disallow it.

I’ve been listening to the Harry Potter series on my commute, thinking a lot about Hogwarts and what I like and don’t like about it. Snape, while one of the greatest characters, is a terrible teacher. Actually most of them are sub-par teachers, save maybe Lupin (more on Lupin in another post).

We never get to see Dumbledore as an official teacher, but his behavior as headmaster suggests he was probably excellent. If I were to venture a guess about his educational philosophy, I’d say two parts are these:

  • Kids learn best by working through their own problems.
  • The world isn’t an easy place, and trying to protect them is not only fruitless, it’s counter-productive.

It’s really hard to let kids figure out their own problems and learn to deal with the harsh realities of life when we smother them with CYA rules. Enter the blind eye.

I’m not endorsing letting kids parachute off the roof, but that’s about the only example I can really give. The point is, if you’re a good teacher, you know your school, you know your kids, you know your class. When a student comes to you with a creative idea that flirts with the line just a little bit, you turn a blind eye.

Officially you say no, and you hand them two drink cups, so to speak.

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