I bet the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is making a heck of a lot of school administrators very, very nervous. And if they’re not … they should be.
The latest Harry Potter book — the fifth in the series — is a story of quiet rebellion and passive-aggressive resistance against the increasingly totalitarian efforts of a new teacher-turned-inquisitor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The teacher — Ms. Umbridge — is appointed to Hogwart’s ever-difficult-to-fill “Defense against the Dark Arts” position and almost immediately begins well-intentioned, but nonetheless oppressive and spirit-draining efforts with the enthusiastic sanction of the government.
It’s something that students have seen happen increasingly in their own school as the “zero tolerance” disease and the absolute sanction it grants has infected America’s education system. And for a generation who’ve seen friends kicked out of school for bringing in a butter knife, or suspended for merely drawing a picture of a gun, The Order of The Phoenix may serve as a sort of rallying cry.
You see, in the book Harry Potter is singled out time and again for punishment because he was brave enough to proclaim that Lord Voldemort — a powerful evil wizard everyone had thought dead or at least permanently weakened — had returned to full power. Despite the fact that that learning defensive spells and countermeasures is more important than ever, Umbridge refuses to teach students anything more than the driest, most useless facts about fending off the Dark Arts.
So students take matters into their own hands. Harry and his friends form a secret club within the school to teach themselves how to defend themselves. With Harry as their teacher, they quickly learn how to fend off curses, disarm opponents, and manifest a sort of defensive guardian known as a patronus.
Their school’s headmaster, Dumbledore, has been under constant siege by the government for backing up Harry’s story and drawing attention to facts no one wants to admit. In his honor, the students start calling themselves “Dumbledore’s Army”. And by the story’s end, they will find that their training and foresight was not in vain.
And the inspiration isn’t limited to just elementary and secondary school students. Those in college can draw inspiration from a 15-year-old who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes, even if what he believes is exceptionally unpopular. Heck, forget college — anyone can draw inspiration from that.
The Order of the Phoenix is an excellently subversive book for today’s students because it advocates the virtues of truth, loyalty, and self-defense, something we just don’t see much of in schools today. Of all the Potter books, its probably the most overtly libertarian — we see government officials as being more interested in protecting their own interests and furthering their own dreams of power than in protecting their people from a very real evil. And we also see a group of individuals who are willing to take responsibility for their own lives and take steps to protect themselves against the vileness the government is aggressively ignoring.
Some people rail against the Harry Potter books because they think they’re dangerous. Harry Potter is dangerous … but not because he’s Satanic or any patently false reason like that. No he’s dangerous because he loves his life, he loves his friends, and he’s not afraid to defend both. That’s a message no tyrant on earth wants people to hear … and it makes one of the most dangerous 15-year-olds ever to be imagined.