From Old School to Battle School: Fictional Schools We Wish Existed
April showers bring May flowers, but what does late summer bring? With September looming, we're preoccupied with school: pencil cases, Trapper Keepers, crowded hallways, and forgotten locker combinations. But our favorite schools reside in books—who wouldn't want to trade lukewarm milk for butterbeer or swap exams for upside-down reading? Here are the fictional schools we wished existed—pencil cases optional.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Let’s get this one out of the way: No real-world experience can match the magic and mayhem of a Hogwarts education. To wit: You learn how to spell, they learn how to cast spells. You sip lowfat milk through wet cardboard, they drink butterbeer. You have to appear in class on time, they learn to disappear. You think your teachers are evil, theirs, well, you know....
It’s every English major’s dream—an elite boarding school in the Northeast where students and professors live and breathe literature. And it’s the 1960s. And Ernest Hemingway makes an appearance! The unnamed school doesn’t actually exist, but bookish types will recognize a comforting fantasy in Tobias Wolff's Old School, written with a sense of nostalgia for an academic ideal that, alas, is too good to be true.
The gravity of a lesson in Shakespeare is nothing compared to the zero gravity combat simulations Ender Wiggin endures at the aptly named Battle School in Ender’s Game. Though the boy genius learns the same hard lessons we all do at the tender age of six—keep your frenemies close, always outwit your foes, the enemy’s gate is down—he masters them in a futuristic space station while being trained to battle aliens hell-bent on the annihilation of the human race.
The Mysterious Benedict Society
To kick off the beloved children's series, the mysterious Mr. Benedict has placed a newspaper ad seeking children of extraordinary talent. Respondents arrive at a strange facility and are asked to work out mind-boggling puzzles to prove their brilliance. The best and brightest must embark on a dangerous mission, one that requires a wide range of problem-solving skills not learned in any classroom. What child wouldn’t love to be whisked away from all the chalk dust and playground scuffles and given an education in saving the world? No textbooks required—just brains and courage.
Wayside School is 30 stories high with one classroom per story. There is no 19th floor, dead rats masquerade as students, one kid can only read upside-down, and another hasn’t gone to the bathroom in 32 years. There is an actual interrupting cow. It is a very silly school, indeed, where “reality” is nowhere near a founding principle. Sideways Stories from Wayside School is just the sort of subversive, hilarious, un-PC work we might expect from the author of Holes.
With surnames like Zipser, Godber, Skullion, and Biggs, you know you’re in for some wry English send-uppery in Tom Sharpe's cult classic Porterhouse Blue. It’s a campus spoof par excellence, set at Porterhouse College, a fictional Cambridge school that plays host to a series of increasingly ridiculous coincidences and catastrophes, culminating in the fatal ignition of gas-filled prophylactics. All class dismissed.
This piece originally ran on September 7, 2013.