Order of the Phoenix is probably the richest source material for censorship in Harry Potter – wouldn’t you say? At this point, Voldemort is back but most of the establishment is trying to deny it. The Ministry is sticking their noses into Hogwarts business, where it does not belong (although technically if the Ministry funds Hogwarts, as JK has confirmed, then it is their business, no?). And the question comes up again and again and AGAIN – who has a right to what knowledge, and who has the right to restrict it? Hogwarts seems like a good place to start examining these questions, I think.
Up till this point, Harry & co. have really only had one competent DADA teacher – Lupin. Quirril and Crouch/Moody were actually on the side of the Dark Arts, which makes anything they teach about defense automatically suspect, and Lockhart was a fraud. But each of those teachers at least ATTEMPTED to give the students practice in DADA – it wasn’t purely theory. Umbridge, on the other hand, refused to let them practice and grounded her class entirely in theory. Because she believed the actual defensive spells to be too dangerous to allow students to attempt (or, she wasn’t strong enough to demonstrate. Either or, really). The thought that they might one day have to use these spells – without ever having practiced them, if she had her druthers – never really seemed to occur to her. She has decided that practicing defensive spells is too dangerous for students to take on, and that’s that, as far as she’s concerned. The students are so infuriated with this censorship of their magical education that they form their own, secret club in order to fill the gaps. You know things are bad when high school students are getting together to learn on their own.
On the other hand, you have Prof. Grubbly-Plank covering for Hagrid at the beginning of OotP, when he’s off courting giants for Dumbledore or some other crackbrained scheme. Grubbly-Plank covered a class for Hagrid once before (in GoF, when he was hiding after Rita Skeeter exposed his parentage), and the general consensus is that her classes are more in line with what the students thought they’d be learning in COMC. In general, the opinion of the students seems to be that Hagrid’s classes are too dangerous and impractical, but the students love him so much they wouldn’t want him replaced either way.
So, what’s the difference between these two? I mean, I’m pretty anti-censorship myself, but even I’m having a hard time explaining what the line should be. In both of these cases, we have a teacher (or several) who put more trust in their students and taught them more dangerous subject matter, and a teacher who pulls back to what she considers more age-appropriate lesson plans. Do we simply hate Umbridge and call censorship because – well – we hate her? Is it because in the case of DADA, the students themselves felt ready to practice and get the hands-on experience they were being denied, while in COMC they felt they were being pushed too far? It isn’t danger, because practicing defensive spells can be just as dangerous – if not more so – than attempting to raise Blast-Ended Skrewts. It isn’t simply the skill of the teacher, because Lockhart and Lupin were both accused of pushing the students too far by Umbidge, and Lupin is far more skilled than Lockhart. And I don’t even think it can be reduced to liking one teacher over another, because even the students – like Hermione – who sincerely liked Hagrid and considered him a friend were aware that Grubbly-Plank was the more competent teacher.
When it comes down to it, the question remains: who gets to decide what is taught, and where is the line where age-appropriateness becomes censorship?