While watching the latest Harry Potter this past weekend, I couldn’t help making a lot of cheesy ed reform jokes after laying eyes on Dolores Umbridge again. “From the Ministry of Education comes Educational Decree Number 2001: The No Child Left Behind Act.”
Her appearance (and my subsequent re-reading of HP5…love Order of the Phoenix!) reminded me of an important historical fact: it is typically totalitarian regimes that attempt to exercise the most control over education.
At the present moment, I don’t think our government is such a regime…but they may very well be making us vulnerable to one in the future, with their mandatory emphasis on a narrow set of frequently (and intrusively) tested, low-level skills. We should be more concerned about students’ ability to use both basic and critical thinking skills in realistic contexts than we are with their performance on paper and pencil (or computer and mouse) tests– a useful education is about empowering students in their present and future states, not making them better at the inane and artificial things we force them to do at school.
Umbridge’s appearance also reminded me of the joyless edu-dictators we’ve put on pedestals recently. I think I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen an image of Joel Klein or Michelle Rhee smiling. (I did hear Michelle Rhee laugh once, when describing how she taped children’s mouths shut and subsequently made them bleed, and left one with a stranger after a field trip…)
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be part of the Order of the Phoenix, or Dumbledore’s Army, than with the Umbridge-Inquisitorial Squad crowd. They stand up for what’s right, even at great personal risk. (And not only is their cause righteous, but they’re way cooler.)
Hands-on learning and defeating evil? Sign me up!