Sunday 7 October 2018

Imagine My Delight.

Time to get serious.

I was late signing up for this programme, and so now I'm a little late in engaging with it. I will have to do most of my study on the weekends, and so I'm commencing my first week tasks a week late, during the second week.

I didn't think this would concern me too much, as I am an efficient worker and a fast learner, and I am committed to undertaking this programme properly. Even though I was nervous and a little worried - after all my last distance learning experience was pretty awful and I wasn't too sure on the required workload I would encounter this time around.

Imagine my delight when I opened my first week's tasks and was instructed to watch an episode of The Prisoner. My wife heard my howl of laughter from a couple of rooms away, and I had great joy in telling her I wasn't just watching TV, I was studying.

It's been a couple of years since I last saw this series, but it is a longtime favourite of mine. Even though I've seen it a few times, it was wonderful to watch it again. I did the pre-reading tasks and watched it with different eyes. And then I reflected, wrote my notes and answered the guiding questions I had been given.

This episode was The General, in which all citizens of the Village are able to undertake a three year University level qualification in three minutes through a breakthrough scientific method called Speedlearn, in which they watch TV and are fed studies through psychedelic/hypnotic images and music. Of course they all gain the knowledge, and can repeat facts parrot-fashion, but all have the same information - even the same knowledge.

One of my first thoughts connected this to the rote-learning scenes in Pink Floyd's The Wall. Right in the middle of Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), the young boy is ridiculed by his teacher for being creative and writing poetry, before they return to reciting the times table.

Everyone is surely familiar with this son's refrain of We Don't Need No Education, We Don't Need No Thought Control. And at first it sounds like a nice little throwaway, anti-establishment slogan. But that's not what Roger Waters was referring to. He has been quoted as saying it's about bad education, about the strict education he encountered that stifled creativity and suppressed and stifled rather than inspired.

So I was thrilled when it was mentioned in the post-viewing notes.

Some other loose connections I made. If these were mapped, it would result in more of a rhizome than a mindmap:
  • Nen No Natsu Yasumi (1999) - A Japanese film of four boys (played by girls) who stay at school over the summer and do all their learning via computer screens. I really need to watch this one again as I'm not sure whether the connection is anything more than the computer learning.
  • The Truman Show - The movie directed by Peter Weir, in which all the residents are actors and Truman doesn't know he's on TV. Is this like the Village in the Prisoner? Are the others all residents or are they actors?
  • Baggy Trousers - a song by Madness. It only relates in as much as the memories they have of school is not the education itself, but the time messing around with their mates.
  • 1984 - Novel by George Orwell, in which Winston is observed and controlled and educated with propaganda through a big screen.
  • Frankenstein - Novel by Mary Shelley. Who is the real monster here? The Professor or the General?
  • The Penultimate Truth - A novel by Philip K Dick, also his short story The Mold of Yancy, in which a leader appears on TV in benevolent fireside chats to guide and control his population.

Nen No Natsu Yasumi
As I said, loose connections I noted while watching. Now for some thoughts I had about the show in general.
  • It's much more Brechtian than I had previously considered. None of the characters are named, and many are simply given titles which reflect their job or role.
  • Even #6 never mentions his name. He continues to insist he is not a number, and that he is a free man, but he never ever gives his own name. Does he even know it anymore, or is it darker than that?
  • Why is #6 the only one who is unhappy there. OK, a few people try to escape throughout the series, but it seems to be more of a plot device than open rebellion. Why are there no escape committees, etc. Are the others really happy there, or are they actors fulfilling a role?
  • Is the Professor for or against the General? He developed the system and at times seems proud of his work, but then condemns it. Is he truly under duress, is it drugs and therapy, or is he torn between the horror of what he's building and the lust for scientific advancement.
  •  Was he and his wife encouraged to come to the Village with the promise of artistic/scientific freedom but is now being menaced or blackmailed into doing the dirty work with his creation?
  • The symbiotic duality of the General and the Professor. Good vs Evil, Victim and perpetrator, Power vs powerlessness.
  • Why does the population of the Village need this education? Is it an indoctrination experiment for them general public? And why doesn't #6 know about it at the beginning while the rest of the Village are already undertaking the course?
  • The result of Speedlearn is even more rote than the old -fashioned system of education the Professor is attempting to supersede. They respond word perfectly every time.
  • How does the numbering system work? I always thought it was seniority. #2 is obviously higher than #6, yet #12 has been there longer than #6 and is also higher up.
  • I thought it was obvious very early that the General was a machine. The Professor said he wanted to destroy it, not kill it.
  • The creator of something powerful has trouble retaining control. Who/what is the real monster? Did we learn nothing from Frankenstein? (or, more recently, the Terminator movies?)
    Just some vague thoughts I had about this show. And now for the actual educational take-away from viewing this show.
    • It is dangerous and unhelpful to presume technology dehumanises society and education. Technology is a tool and a medium. Society and learning is evolving, as are communication and social interaction.
    • Can less face-to-face interaction actually bring benefits as well as its advertised negatives?
    • Why do we believe everyone is entitled to a University education? Most don't actually need it for the roles they will undertake in life. Like much of life (TV, roads, etc), we've moved to a 'user pays' system of funding. As the percentage of degrees per population increases, is mass tertiary education necessary? Would we be better with other forms of education more suited to our life roles?
    • The slogan '100% entry, 100% pass' seems to have a current relevance. We regularly hear tales of student entitlement and of tutors who have difficulties in failing students who have paid premium fees.
    • Education is better compared to a gym than a supermarket. (Tutor notes) You don't pay for a finished product but for the resources, support, mentors and trainers, and the environment. The student still needs to supply the motivation and effort.
    • How much can a computer actually think and teach? How much is simply regurgitation?
    • Why are educational institutions, curriculum and qualifications structured as they are?
    • Education should never be about learning and reciting 'facts.' (What is a fact anyway? What is truth?) Education should always be about enquiry, re-positioning your viewpoint, and further enquiry.

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