prisoner106: Education Hypecycle in The Prisoner

EasyLearn01Being a Director of Academic Technology, how can I not love the episode “The General”? This episode has everything: a crazy professor, an education fad, extreme B.F. Skinnerisms, a “Trust Me” sign, and crazy Old School Tie outfits complete with top hats and sunglasses worn indoors! I was really laughing as I have not seen this episode in years and the parallels between this and the xMOOC craze are positively priceless; both “Speed Learn” of The Prisoner and xMOOCs are mechanical, one-way dumps of information – education as a transfer of information; both relied on wild claims (“three years in three minutes,” “a hundred percent entry, a hundred percent pass,” and the xMOOC’s “ten college future”); both rely on watching a video and taking a test; both ignore interactivity and engagement, but I must say, the level of student support in The Village is a little better and the retention numbers would be the envy of any college.


I love the confabulation of The Village with schools. In the beginning when he follows the crowd who are chasing the professor, he is accosted by the usual Village goons – and the exchange is interesting because they ask No. 6 “Are you a student?” and he says “Who isn’t? Are you prefects?” The two goons are even dressed a little like school boys. His critique of Speed Learn is an attack on mass education of any kind that is just about content: he calls the produced students “rows of cabbages.” No. 12 also trips up No. 6 when he asks him a “what” question about a treaty and No. 6 answers with a “when” answer – in other words the “education” did prepare him to apply the knowledge, only to regurgitate the facts. I think this is a clue for him later on to ask the General “why?”

newlookI love the Eton Old School Boy top hat with the Carnaby St. sunglasses. I think we may have found a new elearning uniform for Humboldt State! So in this episode we have yet another example of a 60s super computer that was seemingly killed by an imponderable question, but do you know what really kills computers in The Prisoner-Star Trek-Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-etc? A freakin’ circuit breaker!! They were 89 cents back then!

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4 Responses to prisoner106: Education Hypecycle in The Prisoner

  1. You had much fun with this one! I am thinking of doing a video mashup with it. I too was laughing at the parallels with xMOOCs. The idea that ‘why’ is a non-googable question that kills ‘the general’ is something that merits reflection. I guess it depends on how much our educational system encourages those who are part of it to keep asking it, or do we forget it is part of what the human mind can do and settle as row of cabbages? The role of technology in this transition is key and I mean technology in a sense that is wider than computers…great summary of the episode. Not surprisingly, it is one of my favourites!

  2. Pingback: You had much fun with this one! I am thinking of doing a video mashup with it. I too was laughing at the parallels with

  3. Melanie says:

    That’s a nice GIF you’ve got there. You picked out some key moments and details too. When “the General” was unveiled, I thought, “Oh, It’s Google!” and was reminded of EMARAC in Desk Set (1957). Those “Trust Me” posters are definitely fodder for a design project. Posters featuring ALL the MOOC/education Cult-of-personalities.

  4. Oh yeah, I agree–great gif! The speed of it and the over-the-top-ness of the technology and its dizziness are perfect for “speed learn.” I hadn’t thought of the General as google, though Melanie makes a great point with that. But as a philosopher, I had to think: well, of course the bare question “why” can’t be answered–there is no referent. Why what? Or maybe it’s just why anything? And is there an answer to that?

    Then I got over myself and my incessant philosophical approach to everything and recognized it as a brilliant metaphor that still applies today (even more so?).

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