Taking Dolorous Umbrage at Betsy DeVos With No Apologies to Dolores Umbridge, But I Miss Alan Rickman

When you teach a number of years coupled with the fact that social media has become such a mainstay in our culture, you have the opportunity to stay connected with former students much more easily.

It is rather a humbling that these younger people (younger than I) would want to tell you about how their lives are progressing: their victories, their obstacles, their journeys.

And they also share with you their observations of the world and its changes.

And then there are the memes. One of my more outgoing former students who happens to be a fantastic dramatist as well sent me the following meme in response to Betsy DeVos’s recent appointment and hearing in front of the HELP committee.

It’s rather brilliant.

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(Credit:?)

And funny. I do not know who the credit should go to, but if you find out, then let me know.

Here are two women who have no real experience with public education (or the education of wizards) and no IDEA of what growth is versus proficiency. Entitled with the power of a ministry, both women have a certain agenda to force into schools that seems more in line with their own personal ideologies rather than the public benefit.

And then there are the standards that each strives to put in place within the schools.

For Dolores Umbridge it was the use of Educational Decrees. Defined by the Harry Potter Wiki website (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Educational_Decree), these decrees are,

“The Educational Decrees are laws created by the Ministry of Magic to set or modify standards at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

…the Ministry (spearheaded by Dolores Umbridge) created new educational decrees to suppress and outlaw behaviour of which the Ministry did not approve, some of which would outright expel the students found to be in transgression of. In truth, however, is just an excuse to strip Albus Dumbledore of his headship of the school and give it to Umbridge.”

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In the book the Educational Decrees were as follows (thanks to Harry Potter Neoseeker – http://harrypotter.neoseeker.com/wiki/Educational_Decrees).

  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-four: All Student Organizations, Societies, Teams, Groups, and Clubs are henceforth disbanded. An Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge). No Student Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor. Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an Organization, Society, Team Group, or Club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-five: The High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of privileges pertaining to the students of Hogwarts, and the power to alter such punishments, sanctions and removals of privileges as may have been placed by other staff members.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-six: Teachers are hereby banned from giving students any information that is not strictly related to the subjects they are paid to teach.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven: Any student found in possession of the magazine The Quibbler will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight: Dolores Jane Umbridge (High Inquisitor) has replaced Albus Dumbledore as the Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

And in the movie where so many got to meet Dolores Umbridge in a more personal way, these decrees were more numerous and amended somewhat. (Again, thanks to Harry Potter Neoseeker – http://harrypotter.neoseeker.com/wiki/Educational_Decrees).

  • Educational Decree Number 22 – In the event of the current Headmaster being unable to provide a candidate for a teaching post, the Ministry should select an appropriate person.
  • Educational Decree Number 23 – Dolores Jane Umbridge has been appointed to the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
  • Educational Decree Number 24 – NO MUSIC IS TO BE PLAYED DURING Study Hours.
  • Educational Decree Number 25 – The High Inquisitor will henceforth have supreme authority over all punishments, sanctions and removal of privileges pertaining to the students of Hogwarts, and the power to alter such punishments, sanctions and removals of privileges as may have been placed by other staff members.
  • Educational Decree Number 26 – Teachers are hereby banned from giving students any information that is not strictly related to the subjects they are paid to teach.
  • Educational Decree Number 27 – Any student found in possession of the magazine The Quibbler will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number 29 – Although never actually passed, it was mentioned by Argus Filch, and would have presumably allowed Filch to torture the students as a punishment.
  • Educational Decree Number 30 – ALL WEASLEY PRODUCTS WILL BE BANNED IMMEDIATELY.
  • Educational Decree Number 45 – PROPER DRESS & DECORUM IS TO BE maintained AT ALL TIMES.
  • Educational Decree Number 68 – All Student Organizations, Societies, Teams, Groups, and Clubs are henceforth disbanded. An Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club is hereby defined as a regular meeting of three or more students. Permission to re-form may be sought from the High Inquisitor (Professor Umbridge). No Student Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club may exist without the knowledge and approval of the High Inquisitor. Any student found to have formed, or to belong to, an Organization, Society, Team, Group, or Club that has not been approved by the High Inquisitor will be expelled.
  • Educational Decree Number 82 – ALL STUDENTS WILL SUBMIT TO QUESTIONING ABOUT Suspected ILLICIT Activities.
  • Educational Decree Number 98 – THOSE WISHING TO JOIN THE INQUISITORIAL SQUAD for Extra Credit May sign up in the High Inquisitor’s OFFICE.

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While I cannot confirm if DeVos has an affinity for cats or for the color pink or office décor centered on putting plates on the wall, it is this adherence to the wishes of the “ministry” where she and Umbridge have a magical connection.

Since Cornelius Fudge is the Minister For Magic who places Umbridge in her educational post, he directs what Hogwarts can and cannot do in the classrooms. In fact, Umbridge on many occasions simply talks about herself as an extension of Fudge within Hogwarts.

“I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty.”

“Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?”

“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.”

Now that’s loyalty.

Betsy DeVos in her confirmation hearing stated her allegiance with her own Cornelius Fudge, Donald Trump, as she would back up his policies, especially when she was pressed in her conversation about guns at schools.

And when you talk about advancing the wishes of a “ministry,” then DeVos certainly is a proud disciple of that. The Mother Jones magazine article (yep, it’s liberal) entitled “Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build ‘God’s Kingdom’” is rather eye-opening and it includes some rather zealous statements about DeVos’s devotion to another cause that may be rather cloudy according to the separation of church and state (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary).

Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on philanthropic dollars—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…[versus] what is currently being spent every year on education in this country…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

From 1999 to 2014, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation gave out $2.4 million to the Grand Rapids Christian High School Association, $652,000 to the Ada Christian School, and $458,000 to Holland Christian Schools. All told, their foundation contributed $8.6 million to private religious schools—a reflection of the DeVoses’ lifelong dedication to building “God’s kingdom” through education.

Makes the word “ministry” take an even more celestial meaning.

Imagine the new guidelines for finding effective teachers after DeVos’s Common Core issues are finally politically cemented and then implemented (if she is confirmed). Umbridge went after many of Hogwarts’s most established professors with the acumen of an educational novice, but with the authority derived from being granted undeserved powers by a man bent on profit, there’s no telling how DeVos will measure effectiveness or growth or proficiency once she looks those words up in her dictionary.

In the books, during a round of standardized testing, Fred and George Weasley literally “drop out,” probably hum some Pink Floyd quietly and make a rather stunning display of civil disobedience that ends with Umbridge being “swallowed” by a dragon-shaped firework. And dragons are appropriate for this because – well, just read this post – “Teachers, Winter Is Coming, So Get Your Dragons!” – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/01/07/teachers-winter-is-coming-so-get-your-dragons/.

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So the meme that puts both Umbridge and DeVos together is quite appropriate and shows that the magical world and the real world might not be that far apart.

At least in some people’s minds.

However, the meme does say that “we needed centaurs to get rid of” Umbridge.

Well considering that DeVos and her family have given heavily to organizations that are blatantly anti-LGBT, centaurs may not be the best choice of helping us rid ourselves of the “deforms” of Betsy DeVos.

So I suggest,

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And after they are done taking away DeVos, they can go to Raleigh and get rid of HB2.

But, just in case DeVos is confirmed it might be time to go ahead and put Defense Against the Dark Arts on the registration list.

In fact, it should be a prerequisite.

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For Alan Rickman – “Always”

Teachers, Winter Is Coming, So Get Your Dragons!

“Winter is Coming!”

Actually it’s here, at least according to the calendar, and by the looks of it here in the piedmont of North Carolina, it surely does look like winter outside with a blanket of snow on the ground.

But also metaphorically speaking, “Winter is Coming!”

Trump is descending upon Westeros, D.C to lay claim to the Iron Throne. Factions of power hungry privatizers are mobilizing with lobbyists and mounds of money to wage influence on several key states under the banners of school choice, vouchers, and charter schools. Tax-exempt High Sparrows are being allowed to accept public money to educate students without regulation like traditional schools are under. There’s even a talk of a literal wall to keep out “wildlings” because they simply “do not belong.”

Even the dreaded White Walkers look as homogenously caucasian as newly elected president’s cabinet selections do.

And the man who will sit on the Iron Throne has chosen a neophyte in education but a veteran in privatization to be his educational Right Hand.

Yes. “Winter is Coming.”

So what do we as public school teachers and advocates do in the face of this daunting prospect?

Simple. We fight with dragons just like in Game of Thrones.

In literature, teachers talk of motifs, symbols, and archetypes – characters, objects, beings, articles, etc, that appear and mean generally the same thing most of the time they appear. Not all the time, but most of the time.

Think of serpents. At one time, serpents were said to have legs like in the story of Genesis concerning the tempting of Adam and Eve. Satan comes in the form of a serpent and through the use of his rhetoric and tongue, he literally poisons the minds of the two inhabitants of the Garden of Eden into eating apples.

He doesn’t bite them. He talks to them. He poisons them with what comes out of his mouth. His words are his fire and the fire does damage.

(By the way, if you are a literary character, don’t eat apples – Adam and Eve, Snow White, Trojan War and Discord. Have an orange instead.)

Dragons are like serpents, except they are bigger and can fly. Their poison can be both words and actual fire. Their weapons come from their mouths in the form of words or fire. And sometimes their words are like fire – they burn. (And, I will admit, that not all dragons are mean, but a lot talk with logic and truth. Their words have fire.)

  • Think of Smaug in The Hobbit. He’s smart. Sounds like the guy from Sherlock. Has a temper to boot and literally can throw flames from his mouth.
    smaug
  • Think Saphira. She doesn’t even have to open her mouth to talk to Eragon.
    saphira
  • Even C.S. Lewis used one in the Chronicles of Narnia (remember Eustace Scrubb?).
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  • PETE!
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  • And, of course Harry Potter’s stories. There’s Norbert. And even another form of serpent – the basilisk. There’s even parseltongue!

Now back to GOT and our figurative comparison to the educational terrain we see before us. One of the most powerful foes against the forces that seek to rule Westeros is Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. Not only does she wield experience and power, she brings dragons, specifically three of them named Drogon, Rhaegal & Viserion. But she also brings her own fire – the ability to negotiate, argue, and appeal.

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And it doesn’t hurt that she has dragons and that she is immune to flames herself. We teachers and advocates have certainly withstood many flames of criticism hurled our way that is undeserved and unwarranted. Yet we still persevere.

Fire tends to melt ice, and if winter is coming, we need that fire.

So we need our own dragons.

We need our voices.

Whether they are expressed in letters, emails, tweets, postings, blogs, phone calls, rallies, protests, or wherever, we need our voices to be heard. They are fire.

Write your representatives and let your voices be heard. And in the meantime, we will sit on our own Iron Thrones in front of our classrooms and benevolently facilitate learning for those who come through our doors.

Because we don’t have walls to keep people out.