Our Not so Magical Education System

New blog category: A Student’s Perspective. My students have a lot to say about the current education system. Instead of telling you how they feel, I decided to let them speak for themselves. Some articles originally appeared in The LHS Revolution (thelhsrevolution.com); others are created specifically for this blog. Their parents have signed permission forms to share their work here. Read, comment, question, but remember they are students; be respectful. Thank you, Pauline Hawkins

By Clark Valentine

Order of Phoenix

In J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and the rest of the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are shocked to find that their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is from the Ministry of Magic. They know instantly that the Ministry is trying to control their education through the character of Professor Dolores Umbridge.

The students are even more surprised when they enter the Defense Against the Dark Arts class for the first time where Professor Umbridge greets them with her deceiving smile and new textbooks that contain a “Ministry approved guide to learning Defense Against the Dark Arts.” As Professor Umbridge begins to explain the goals of the class, Hermione realizes that actually trying the defensive spells is not part of the curriculum. Hermione points it out to Umbridge, who, without losing her sweet smile, continually insists that the students “have no need to practice the spells because they will not need to use them in life.”

Despite the students’ attempts to persuade her that it is necessary for them to practice the spells to properly learn them, Umbridge tells the class that as long as they have a conceptual knowledge of the curriculum they will know all that they need to know about it. Soon, she begins to lose her sweet smile, but still calmly says to the furious students: “It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be more sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about.”

Anyone who has read the Harry Potter series and has the same detest for Umbridge would agree that this statement is absurd. Readers will say that the young wizards need to learn the spells because they will need to be used in a wizard’s day-to-day life.  Plainly stated, there is more to a wizard’s life than just passing a test in school.

Now how is it any different for us Muggles?

A normal person goes through a similar type of schooling as the characters of the Harry Potter series did, just without the spells and mystics. In the current education system, teachers tell students that they need to read a textbook to understand the concept, but not learn how to apply it to life after schooling.

Most textbooks have complicated terms, equations, and formulas that students are required to memorize. The problem is that these concepts will have no further use to the students in life other than to get a “good grade” in the class. While students are learning these complicated, and in most cases, useless concepts, they are not learning life skills such as how to balance a checkbook, pay a mortgage on a house, develop social skills to communicate with coworkers, etc.

Not only are some of the concepts being taught useless to most students who will not follow a career in that path, but the teachings that may be useful to a student’s life are not actually being taught, but rather memorized in hopes to pass the upcoming test. Teachers tell students that they need to focus all their attention on passing the next test or preparing for a standardized test. Like Umbridge, teachers are not as concerned about the students actually learning the information to prepare them for life as they are concerned for the students to remember things that will allow them to test high on the TCAP’s, ACT’s, or other standardized tests.

Teachers and students need to check themselves to see if they are one of the people who follow Professor Umbridge’s philosophy that doing well on the upcoming test is what school is all about. People who follow this principle on schooling need to realize that students have the majority of their life outside of school and there is more to life than just studying and memorizing things for a test. School was not intended to be a place where students cannot look past the next test and temporarily memorizing terms, but rather a place where students can take the information and apply it to life so that when they graduate they can be well-rounded and knowledgeable members of society.

Sources: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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3 Responses to Our Not so Magical Education System

  1. wildflowersp says:

    Well played, although I might add teachers could very well be concerned, but they lack the power to make changes in curriculum. But you hit on the head what Rowling was talking about.

    • I agree. Many teachers are concerned and want also to teach how their course material helps them in life outside high-school walls. Thank you for commenting and supporting Clark’s efforts!

  2. Alan Earing says:

    The premise of applicable lessons is a super-hot buzz word: relevance!

    I understand the feelings of impertinence regarding a lesson/chapter/unit/course… not only was I a student in public education, I also went to college. In college, I was required to take whole semesters of courses like computer science where I learned basic programming: I have YET to program anything!

    But here’s the catch. I have a better understanding of how “things” work than if I had never mastered a beautiful layout of code… or intro to psychology, or econometric regression analysis, or history of religion! I also know how to not only jump through hoops, I can do it with style and grace.

    I also know how to start… and FINISH something. I have developed a trait called perseverance. It is a resiliency, so that if there is something I want, I am capable of getting it!

    I learned how to work hard WITHOUT having to be entertained; I learned how to learn… independently.

    Though the ministry is undoubtedly killing the spirit of education-through-experience learning, there is something to be said for subjects like psychology, communication, and calculus! Sure, you may never need to derive something in “real life,” but those who have calculus in their transcripts earn much more than those who have “math essentials” or “consumer math.”

    Though it is a real drag to have boring classes, it is immeasurably worse to NOT even have a clue about how things work.

    I fear we see examples of teachers bringing a subject to life for students, but what we miss is how that teacher works tirelessly to teach students how to persevere, how to take ownership of their own learning, accountability… all aspects that go beyond learning the direct correlation of a lesson to each student’s personal preferences.

    Beware lowering the cognitive rigor too far for the sake of entertaining students who will need to know how to persevere and take ownership of their own learning.

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