Harry Potter and the Standardized Test-Based Curriculum

Dolores Umbridge: Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?
Hermione Granger: There’s nothing in here about using defensive spells.
Dolores Umbridge: Using spells? Ha ha! Well I can’t imagine why you would need to use spells in my classroom.
Ron Weasley: We’re not gonna use magic?
Dolores Umbridge: You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.
Harry Potter: Well, what use is that? If we’re gonna be attacked it won’t be risk-free.
Dolores Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class.
Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?


It’s funny to read a Harry Potter book or watch a Harry Potter film now that I’ve got two years of teaching experience behind me, because now there’s a whole new layer to the books that I never noticed before, and that’s the world of Hogwarts’ own instructors.  Their methods, their effect on the students, their relationships with fellow faculty members–well, they’re all very nicely fleshed-out for a book about magical happenings and children.  And furthermore, they’re not that unlike real, non-magical schools and their teachers.

I don’t recall if the exact exchange from above appears word-for-word in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but it does appear in the film.  I would like to know exactly how aware Rowling is of the state of American education right now, because this exchange was remarkably perceptive.  A curriculum designed purely to get students to ace a big scary test, the total absence of real-world connections, the endless practicing of different techniques and methods but very little true application of the newly acquired “skills,” and who can forget the notion of the government creating and approving a heavily guided, paced, and revised product to be finally shoveled down the mouths of babes.

No wonder our schools are failing so swiftly; there’s no magic going on in these classrooms.  And ain’t no magic spell gonna fix it either.


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