One of my friends posed this hypothetical question:
Which would you choose:
a. Go to Hogarts?
b. Join Starfleet Academy?
c. Train to be a Jedi?
An interesting question, and one nerdy enough to set off the pleasure center in my brain. Let’s over-analyze our options, starting with the most popular pick amongst my friends; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Everyone seems to think of Hogwarts as quaint and enchanting — you know, British. Everything around you is magic, you attend classes in a castle, and everyday you learn something whimsical that you wouldn’t learn at any other school. Also, Alan Rickman’s there, which is pretty awesome in and of itself. But let’s just take off our Awesome Glasses for a moment and think about how it would really be to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
First off, and this must be said, Hogwart’s is probably the scariest and most dangerous school ever imagined. Yes, I know Voldemort was behind several of the shenanigans that put many lives in danger, but he’s not responsible for all of the school’s troubles. From the foundation on up, Hogwarts is a horribly-run place that, if it were any other school, would have been shut down years ago.
To use an example from Chamber of Secrets, the school’s staff was well aware that Hogwarts was built on top of a lair that houses a deadly beast, but they chalk it up to being a myth since no one has actually seen it. Then several students were magically paralyzed by a creature that was obviously on the loose on school grounds, and threats from the perpetrator were scrawled on the walls in blood directly mentioning the lair in question. Do they shut down Hogwarts pending a formal investigation and seek the immediate capture/eradication of whatever monster was responsible? Nope. In fact, they let one of their students handle the situation, and then refrain from taking any disciplinary action against him for risking his own life in doing so.
Then there’s the incident from Prisoner from Azkaban, where a convicted murderer escapes from prison and the school’s staff knows that he’s heading for Hogwarts. In order to capture him, the Ministry of Magic sends Dementors — soul-sucking vaporous creatures — that outright attack one of the school’s students. Again, does the school shut down considering all that is going on? No.
Speaking of the school’s staff, it should be mentioned that there’s obviously no background checks for the instructors. In a reality where werewolves are real, would you even consider hiring a professor named Remus Lupin? Hogwart’s did, and — surprise, surprise — it turned out he was a werewolf and nearly murdered several students. Was he fired? Of course not. He left of his own volition and no inquiry or punishment against him was made.
There was also Gilderoy Lockhart, a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor who lied about all of his qualifications, erased people’s memories and put the well-being of several students in jeopardy on multiple occasions. And let’s not forget Professor Quirrell, who had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head.
It’s pretty telling that one of the most qualified and competent professors at Hogwarts murdered its Headmaster.
All that aside, casting spells and making potions is pretty sweet. However, students go into Hogwarts with a 4th grade education and after ten years, they leave… with a 4th grade education, except they now have the abilities to make deadly potions and travel through time. There’s no Reading Comprehension, Grammar or Arithmetic — hell, not even Art — taught at Hogwarts. Think about it: A bunch of teenagers with the literacy and intelligence of 10-year-olds are sent out into the world casting Magic Missiles and concocting the most potent date rape drugs known to humankind. What a bright future to look forward to.
Even if you’re cool with all of this because you’re thinking about how awesome casting magic would be, put yourselves in the parents’ shoes — honestly, would you want your kid to attend Hogwarts? How many altercations with corrupt/incompetent school officials and near deaths would it take before you say to yourself, “You know, this school is kind of shitty”?
All right, so Hogwarts might not be for everyone… or anyone. But what about Jedi training, the second most popular choice amongst my friends? What possible negatives could there be to being a Jedi?
If you enjoy romantic relationships and the perks that come with them (i.e., sex), I don’t think you’d want to be a Jedi. You’re forced into the life of a celibate space monk, trained from infancy to resist temptations (i.e., fun) and to live a life of duty and honor. Noble, sure, but once you’ve completed training, your job is to serve the Jedi Council, who in turn serves the Galactic Senate. As Mace Windu put it, you’re a “keeper of the peace.” Your most common duties are to have diplomatic talks with unruly aliens as a liaison to the Galactic Senate and to be a personal bodyguard for Senators, and they won’t all look like Natalie Portman, either. (Even if they did, it would still suck — remember, a Jedi’s life is free of romance of any kind. You can’t even think about sex.) Given the Law of Large Numbers, you’d probably end up the bodyguard for some 4-foot tall space cockroach, or worse, Jar Jar Binks.
But hey, having a lightsaber, telekinesis and mind control is awesome, right? It would be, but you’ve been conditioned to not find it fun, and the second you start having fun, it means that you’re probably a Sith. Better start preparing yourself now so that you can fight one of your Jedi friends to the death some day.
Look at Luke Skywalker. In A New Hope, he was an impetuous, light-hearted teenager who handled the lightsaber like it was an awesome toy, but by Return of the Jedi, he was stoic, reserved and almost a completely different person. He changed after training for only a short time; imagine being trained for your whole life, from pre-school on.
In the end, being a Jedi is diminished by what it means to actually be a Jedi. We imagine having Jedi powers without doing all that boring meditation and rigorous conditioning, but you can’t reach the end without the means. Once you’ve gone through Jedi training, you’ve repressed all your emotions and are no longer you. You are an automaton serving the Galactic Senate, and is that what you want for your life? Can you give up all that you have and are for the sake of some mind powers and a lightsaber?
The last and least picked school is Starfleet Academy. I can see why this option might seem “boring,” but there’s some advantages to going to Star Trek’s prestigious military academy over the other choices.
Given how I talked about the dangers of Hogwarts (yet failed to address the issue with Jedi training), I’m sure some of you are thinking about how deadly being on the Enterprise would be. First of all, not all people who graduate Starfleet Academy end up on the Enterprise. There are safer alternatives out there, if one was so inclined to pursue them. Second, crew members that were not on the bridge were rarely put in danger and it was even more rare for anyone to be killed — that includes the infamous “red shirts”, who were most likely just enlisted petty officers who never graduated Starfleet anyway. The academy itself has an infinitesimal mortality rate, so mentioning death and danger is a moot point for Starfleet Academy attendees.
Now that that’s out of the way, I must point out that Starfleet Academy is the most school-like of the optional schools, but is that so bad? While you may not care about all of the subjects that you’ll be taught (much like all schools), it’s guaranteed to be full of some of the best teachers on the planet, if not galaxy. Even the worst class would probably be better than what you’re used to. Hell, just look at any time they feature Starfleet in any of the Star Trek series. It’s located in a futuristic San Francisco with amazing weather and scenery and it’s always full of smiling, uniform-wearing young cadets. Starfleet looks less a school and more like some sort of pleasure resort or fun-loving cult.
That said, Starfleet’s still a military academy, which might be a turn off, and that’s understandable. The idea of going to a military academy isn’t inviting to me either, but then again, attending West Point won’t allow you to interact with alien life on starships, space stations and research colonies. Context is key. Starfleet gives you excellent prospects by the time you graduate, which is more than you can say for Hogwarts or Jedi training.
“Ooo, Starfleet is all boring and doesn’t kill its students. La-dee-da and whoopty whistle,” you say, like a condescending jerk. “You can move stuff with your mind following the Jedi Order and you can cast magic at Hogwarts, so either one is obviously more awesome than Starfleet.”
Well, you can do anything in the Star Trek universe. How? One word: holodecks. In holodecks (or the much more available holosuites), you can do whatever you want in a computer-controlled, consequence-free environment. Punch dragons, have sex with your favorite celebrity, use your boss’ face as a toilet — holosuites/decks are the ultimate in wish fulfillment. Why would you settle for anything less?
My fictional school of choice: Starfleet Academy