52

In the books Harry is actually shown to be a bit of an underachiever in school. He barely makes the grades he needs to become an Auror (I forget if he actually does make the grades he needs or not). He constantly relies on Hermione to just know what they need or do the research for him. What I don't understand is that unlike Ron who grew up around magic, and so he was used to it as were almost all the students at Hogwarts, Harry was more like Hermione in that he didn't grow up knowing about magic. He should have been ravenous to learn anything that would make him different from the Dursleys. Finding out that he had a destiny or at least a legend about him that made him famous should have also prompted him to learn as much as possible. And if for no other reason the fact that his life was in danger every year he was at school should have made him into a much better student for the simple reason of self-preservation. However Harry seems to somehow find almost all magic boring.

Now I do understand that some of the classes were really boring and that anything fantastical can become mundane but still he is learning magic and he has many reasons to learn all that he can so why doesn't he try harder? He's definitely not unskilled or stupid.

  • 18
    Harry could not become an Auror based off his school grades; he never finished his seventh year, and would not have the required NEWT levels. However, it is reasonable that he would be accepted into the Aurors anyway, based off of his having destroyed Voldemort. – Gabe Willard Mar 13 '12 at 18:22
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    Yeah it seems like in general a lot of exceptions were made for him. Some of them very valid exceptions and some just seemed to let him coast by. – Kevin Howell Mar 13 '12 at 20:27
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    Is it possible that being a Horcruxes also contributed to his distraction? After all, learning magic with the intent of defeating Voldemort should have been at odds with the part of him that held the Horcruxes and could have materialized in a form of ADHD-like behavior. – Josh Mar 13 '12 at 20:39
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    what i dont get is how in the first book harry went to get the stone before voldemort thinking he could try and prevent voldemort or even snape with only a 1st years knowledge of magic even with hermione wouldnt most people go how the hell am ment to try and stop snape a grown magic user and many more unknown magical protctions with only basic knowledge of magic I DONT REALLY THINK THATS BRAVE MORE ON THE LINES OF RECKLESS OR STUPID – anais Jul 8 '12 at 14:45
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    Gee. Try telling your sons or daughters that they should learn harder with such a motivational speech and tell us whether it's worked. – b_jonas Jul 8 '12 at 18:46
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+500

Before Hogwarts, Harry suffered severe neglect and emotional abuse as well as malnutrition and poor eyesight. The malnutrition may have physically affected his ability to learn and concentrate. Also, children who suffer severe trauma at home, as Harry did, find learning and concentrating very difficult. It is not unknown for them to learn something one day, only to forget it by the next day. In addition, Harry has never been rewarded for good work or encouraged or helped to do well. In fact, the Dursleys very strongly discouraged him from learning, studying, reading, doing homework or standing out in any positive way. These attitudes and habits developed in the first seven years of life are very hard to change and most of Harry's characteristics are not conducive to schoolwork or concentration.

On the other hand, due to his mistreatment, he has developed excellent reflexes and the ability to notice what is going on around him. While these helped him survive at the Dursleys', they also help him with Quiddich and duelling. In fact, he seems to have a very kinetic or physical style of learning, which accounts for his success in DADA. He's interested in spells that are useful, rather than theory. This is opposed to Hermione, who has a very academic or written style of learning.

Furthermore, Harry has learned a strong distrust of adults, due to his treatment by the Dursleys and presumably his teachers at primary school and other adults he comes into contact with who have failed to help him. Therefore, each year when he is confronted with danger, he does not trust the adults around him to deal with it. This only becomes worse with each successive book as the adults around him fail him in more significant ways and with worse consequences. As the dangers seem to affect him personally, he feels he must investigate and solve the problem. Most of his attention is on solving these problems rather than his schoolwork and he tends to put the minimum of effort into anything that does not seem to be related to the life-and-death situations he is pursuing. Which is, of course, very reasonable.

While some people might feel that a more sensible response would be to study hard and try to learn 'everything' about magic, that kind of decision might require more maturity than Harry possesses in the early books. The way he has been taught to NOT study and the difficulty he possesses in learning information due to his mental history and constant alertness also suggest he would not develop into a serious scholar. As shown by his research into Flamel in the first book, he can study hard, but is more likely to focus on his immediate problem rather than long term goals of knowledge. By the time he may be old enough to consider this, he is facing the possibility of imminent death (from the 3rd book onwards) and rightly considers dealing with this his priority.

Consider also the repression he has been under most of his life. He appears to have had very little time to relax, no time to play, and no one with whom to talk or be friendly. It is hardly suprising that he should want to enjoy these and prefer them to homework or studying (after all, most children do). Given the discouragement and negative feelings that the Dursleys made him associate with all kinds of work, including study, why should he be interested in doing so?

So Harry is suffering from possible physical damage to mind and body, mental and emotional trauma and has an ingrained dislike/fear of work, believing it will lead to negative consequences. He is also constantly on the alert, taking up a lot of his concentration, and his remaining concentration is focused on the danger he and his friends have discovered THIS year. To say nothing of dealing with the consequences and mental trauma of the previous years and his early life!

Quite frankly, it is astounding Harry is able to cope as well as he is.

  • 4
    This is a wonderful answer. It really does a great job of profiling Harry so that I'm able to understand him better. – Kevin Howell Jan 18 '13 at 16:17
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    Earned the +1 by the second paragraph, and deserves a couple more. Brilliant and very very well thought out. – Robert Wertz Dec 16 '15 at 16:48
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    The only thing missing in this answer is some supporting evidence from the books. Everything checks out with my headcanon, but it'd be useful to provide sources for these claims. – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 2 '16 at 20:39
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    Interestingly enough, I've learned from my wife's research on reducing poverty in our community that studies suggest that people who grow up in abusive or neglectful environments typically develop a much stronger "flight response" when presented with stressful situations. Even something like being yelled at for a mistake tends to trigger fear responses. That makes this answer even better, especially the last sentence. – Beofett Feb 14 '17 at 15:18
  • The issue with this answer is that, as stated in Beofett's answer, he does do quite well in several classes, and tries in many of them. Also, it's not that he doesn't trust the adults to handle it, it's that when he tells the adults they shrug it off (I'm sure it's a tvtrope). So, -1, because it sounds all well and good, but is all conjecture and leaves a lot of facts out. – Dave Johnson Jun 19 '18 at 13:12
40

Harry does try in most of his classes.

However, he simply does not have an aptitude for some subjects, suffers constant distractions from his studies (the plot of every single book in the series, actually), and has problems with some of the teachers.

In potions, he does put forth effort, but the lack of aptitude, coupled with the personality conflict with Snape, prevents him from obtaining decent grades until Professor Slughorn takes over the class (and, not coincidentally, Harry obtains Snape's annotated textbook).

In History of Magic, he simply finds the relentlessly droning monotone of the teacher not very conducive to learning (not to mention it isn't actually learning magic). I think its safe to say most students have problems with that type of instruction.

In Defense Against the Dark Arts, he generally does very well, and learns quickly. Even when Snape takes over temporarily, Harry is seen to put in a fair amount of effort on his homework assignments, even if he does attempt to dump the task of finishing it to Hermione.

In herbology, he participates, and puts in effort, even though he doesn't have the natural aptitude Neville Longbottom displays.

In Haggrid's class, Harry participates, and would have even done his homework if he could have figured out how to open the text book.

In fact, we've been shown that Harry does do work over the summer break (when he isn't fleeing from Dementors and Death Eaters). He does do homework, and generally pays attention in class to the best of his ability. However, the constant distractions he faced were the biggest obstacle to his school work.

If it wasn't for the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, the escape of Sirius Black, being involuntarily entered into the Tri-wizard Tournament, getting drawn into the Order of the Phoenix, having to take extra lessons in Occlumency while spending additional time researching Tom Riddle and the Horcruxes, and then having to flee the school, he probably would have had significantly better grades.

  • But really the only events that really disrupted his actual schooling was the Tri-wizard Tournament (in which he actually studied harder than before and was still handed the solutions) and fleeing school. I know certain classes were boring (History of Magic) but still he barely seems to care about any class other than DADA. Dumbledore even took Harry into extra training because he thought Harry could handle it and needed it. Take Mcgonalls class he should have excelled but he barely tried. – Kevin Howell Mar 13 '12 at 20:03
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    @kevinhowell why should he have excelled? Haveing a dangerous animal/suspected serial killer on the loose would hurt your ability to study outside of class which is vital unless you are extremely talented. And that's when you aren't spending most of your time trying to track them down. – AncientSwordRage Nov 26 '12 at 9:20
6

Out-of-universe:

There's just (more or less by definition) more kids not excellent in every subject at school. Most of the people get by in school by being reasonably good in some subjects that interest them and not really trying in the boring ones. So, a Harry that is not perfect at school is actually easier to relate to for those people.

And those who do study hard in every subject and try to learn everything still have Hermione to relate to, so there would be no point in having two main characters for this minority and no one for the others.

2

Taking into account his excellent broom flying achievements and hard Quidditch training, I don't think so he's under the average achievements of a sportsman in US/UK. He doesn't have special gifts when it comes to learning (like Hermione) but he do have the sport ones, so it's quite logical to concentrate on what you're doing best. Becoming an auror are the far plans, becoming a quidditch school champion are the short ones. Well, kids aren't especially tending to concentrate on long-run plans?

Additionally, Harry is constantly getting into troubles. Being in the constant danger of being killed by the most powerful dark wizard of all the times are the circumstances in which most of not only kids, but adults too would give up on trying to achieve anything else than just survive the other day. Taking it into account, it's still amazing that Harry manages to concentrate on learning at all!

  • 1
    Good point he did end up being more a jock for a wizard. I guess I just keep thinking of studying magic as amazing but he was focusing on the magic he found fun. – Kevin Howell Jun 10 '14 at 5:02
1

Remember, Harry isn't a powerful wizard, he's a natural at it. It comes easy to him, witness the broom session. It's quite common for such a person to excel at the one thing to the exclusion of all else, including (for a more muggle example) flunking out of college entirely and immediately becoming a professional in that one field. Harry just squeaks by in everything that isn't actual magic. I'd like to think that this quality is recognized by (some of) the faculty and helped along within the confines of the school.

  • Did Harry "flunk" college? Was there any other process for him to keep learning magic as opposed to becoming an Auror straight away? – Edlothiad Jun 19 '18 at 10:56
  • No, he didn't, but many muggles do. Harry is motivated enough to stay at Hogwarts that he puts in enough effort to barely pass the "not practicing magic" classes. – stolenmoment Jun 19 '18 at 11:47
  • But he's not a muggle? – Edlothiad Jun 19 '18 at 11:49
  • No, but he's a human, raised as a muggle, and learned in muggle schools how to "get by". – stolenmoment Jun 19 '18 at 11:56
  • Until 11 then went to Wizarding school, so the majority of the most important years of his schooling were in the wizarding system, I'm unsure how this leads him to college? Or how him not going is "flunking" or why he has to be a magic genius not to go to college? – Edlothiad Jun 19 '18 at 11:59
-4

The Harry Potter books are not descriptions of real events in an existing universe, so we must not attempt to understand them as such. The books were written by their author for a specific audience. Books are usually a success, when they allow their readers to identify with their protagonists. Since the average kid finds school mostly boring and thrives in their spare time, the books' protagonist is portrayed like that.

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