Harry Potter and the Order of Teaching

I re-watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night and my wife and I noticed something about teaching. Of course I mentioned that this would make a good blog post (and she may still post it on her blog, but I can't help myself). If you have not read the book or seen the movie, I don't think I will give away any serious spoilers - but who hasn't at least seen the movie? If you were going to see it (or read it) you would have done so by now - right?

The Order of the Phoenix shows at least three different examples of teachers and teachings in the movie. Here they are:

Dolores Umbridge


Here is the best line from Umbridge: (from IMDB)

"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."

Yes, even today, there are many that would agree with Umbridge. Exams and grades are the most important aspect of school. Of course that is not quite right. Could you even have a school without exams? Yes. Think about Aristotle and Plato? Or Luke and Yoda (well, I guess the cave was an exam and Luke failed). The exams are just a way of figuring out what students understand and telling it to others. The real point of school is learning.

Here is another quote from Umbridge: (this one wasn't in IMDB, so I will just make it up)

[Copy the following reading assignment four times. That will ensure maximum retention of material]

I am pretty sure I messed that quote up. But Umbridge's learning strategy is brute force memorization that will be used the pass the exams. (hint: exams = No Child Left Behind).

There is one final educational aspect about Umbridge - her ever increasing list of rules. Oh, a student did something unique? I will make a rule to prevent that. I am sure that you can see this in muggle education as well.

Harry Potter


Harry becomes an instructor (I like that term better than teacher) when the Hogwarts students form "Dumbledore's Army". I think there are some great educational points in the instruction of these students (as guided by Harry).

  • First, Harry claims he is not really that great and doesn't know everything. This is similar to muggle instructors. From a students perspective, I look awesome and infallible. If you read this blog, you know that is not quite true.
  • In the movie, do you see any lecturing during the students' meetings? No. What do they do to learn magic? They practice magic. They get in small groups. Harry walks around and gives pointers. This is the way I like to teach (but I'm no Harry Potter).



I am sure you are aware as Snape in his normal role as Hogwarts Professor. But let me look at his role in his private tutoring of Harry in mind stuff (I can't remember what that is called or how to spell it). This is likely open to lots of interpretations, but it seems like Snape is more interested in punishing Harry than helping him. Oh, sure. You could say, but torturing him, he is helping him. Who knows what Snape's real intentions were.

Snape is a good analogy for teachers who are focused on teaching through suffering. "How can you grow if you don't suffer through quantum mechanics? Or Latin?"

More like this

Hey, I have the DVD! Do you want me to bring it in to class tomorrow so we can watch it?

By Gina Little (not verified) on 26 Aug 2009 #permalink

The purpose of school is to help students understand. There are two parts: Understanding (learning) in class, and review (homework). Students do not know that homework is an essential part of learning, and not done just for a good grade. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

By Dr. Sanford Aranoff (not verified) on 27 Aug 2009 #permalink

I am about to begin watching the Order of the Phoenix and will keep in mind your comments as we go.

I'm beginning my 3rd year teaching the 'little ones' in just over a week.

Thanks for this posting,