Harry Potter 5:
A Treatise on Education
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is not about magic. The tricks, stunts, special effects, sweeping panoramic shots of wizards flying on broomsticks over London, and the ascent of the dark wizard Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes)—they’re all secondary to education.
The movie begins as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) uses a complex Patronus spell outside of his school, Hogwarts, to fend off soul-sucking dementors in the presence of his muggle, non-wizard, cousin Dudley. Technically, it is forbidden for wizards under the age of 17 to use magic outside of school. Despite the life-threatening circumstances, Harry is tried in front of the Ministry of Magic, facing, potentially, expulsion from Hogwarts. Harry’s mastery of the spell he learned in school seems to have gotten him in trouble with the very people who oversee the curriculum: the government.
A major aspect of the movie was the ministry’s overarching intervention at Hogwarts, and the consequences of leaving educational controls in the hands of government personnel who have no background in education. This motif is personified by Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a ministry representative who lands the coveted, yet cursed post of Defense against the Dark Arts teacher.
At the first meal of the school year, Umbridge interrupts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), stands up, and orates about her (the ministry’s) approach to education: rote memorization without hands-on experimentation. During her first class, Umbridge hands out the course textbook based on the theory and history of defense spells, but without relevance to their real-world application. When know-it-all Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) asks why they won’t be learning any practical magic, Umbridge answers by saying real applicable knowledge isn’t important. After all, school is all about standardized testing according to Umbridge.
The students, however, know better. Unwilling to face the dark world unprepared, the students take their education into their own hands by forming Dumbledore’s Army. Dumbledore’s Army is a student-lead—and Umbridge-banned—enrichment program in which Potter teaches practical defense spells. Umbridge becomes so paranoid about her power that she uses truth serum on students to locate the meetings.
Later in the year, Umbridge sits on a throne in front of a giant pendulum as she administers the Outstanding Wizarding Levels, standardized tests comparable to the Regents. By this point, Umbridge has been appointed as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, a position that provides the power to dismiss tenured professors. After deciding they weren’t meant to remain in the academic realm, the notorious class clowns Fred and George Weasley spark an astounding show of the wizard equivalent of fireworks during the test. “You know, I really hate children,” Umbridge said shortly following the spectacle.
Harry’s involvement in education comes to fruition when he and his friends go on a mission to save his godfather. The adolescents use their newly acquired spells to fend off fully-grown Death Eaters, Voldemort’s followers. Voldemort, partially a spirit, possesses Harry’s body for a few moments in this battle of consciousness. But Harry’s memories of friendship and positive sentiments in Dumbledore’s Army separate him as the victor this time, for Harry has something Voldemort doesn’t—not only friendship, but more importantly, friends concerned enough to help each other seize control of the course of education.#