Tag Archives: Salman Khan

New Policy for the Khan Academy

Every time I am on a long hiatus from this blog, I come back to find a ton of comments under my past posts about the Khan Academy. (See: The Khan Academy and the Snake Oil of Education Deform, Finally, More Criticism About the Khan Academy, Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy, Khan Academy: If You Don’t Like It, You Don’t Get It and, my personal favorite, 60 Minutes Worships Salman Khan and So Do You.)

The vast majority of comments all have the same tone and tenor. For a while I have believed that something was rotten in Denmark. Take a look at some of the typical comments below and maybe you will see what I see. (Feel free to skim or completely ignore the comments quoted below. In fact, I encourage you to do so because they are mostly redundant wastes of time. Yes, redundant wastes of time.):

I would just like you to address what I’m going to say here to help you understand my belief on online learning in general I have read little of what you’ve had to say sense most of it’s nonsense and has no arguments backing it up. I would like to give a real world example of the benefits of Khan Academy. I have a good friend who struggled in Algebra II and after going in depth and learning online from Salman Khan’s Khan Academy, he ended up passing the class with an A-. So many teachers in the status quo are just trying to pass kids and not further their knowledge, they want the load of kids off their hands. I would say that about 70% of my own teachers are like this within my own school.

I, myself, have had the benefit of learning more about biology. I got a more in depth understanding of it, and learned the complete concept of meiosis in under an hour where in a class room I got lectured for 4 straight days of hour and a half periods and I still couldn’t grasp that during my Freshman Year of high school. Why should one have to send their kid off to a university (and pay 100,000 dollars when it’s all said and done) when knowledge can be spread so beneficially over the internet?

or

I am a public school teacher. Not in math, but in music, though I often end up in the topic of math and also teach it on the side and there are many similar situations.
I spend class time engaging my students in authentic experiences, but sometimes I know that not all of my students have the basics that are required for the activity and I struggle with the decision of whether to spend time drilling (wasting the time of students who already get it) or just move on (causing some students to fake it or fail). If I want all of my students to be able to identify piano keys by note name, or identify pitches on a staff, or tap out various rhythms of increasing difficulty, I have to put making actual music on hold while chucking in with each student. Some of these things I could do with worksheets, but I would not have the results of that assessment quickly enough to plan the rest of out class time based on it. I also hate the idea that I might “grade” those papers and hand them back to students, than decide whether to teach the lesson to everyone again and test again, or just move on. i wish I had some method of helping each student achieve mastery of these basic skills so we could all use them together in class. If I were a math teacher I would be very excited about Khan’s practice tools for this reason- a unit does not end with each student being judged. it ends when you actually have learned it (and then you continue to review it later.)

I am very wary of people who would say who is and is not an educator. Being a school teacher does not mean that you can or should control information- quite to opposite. Students should know that you are just one source, the textbook is just one source, their parents, television, youtube, just other sources, and they need their critical thinking skills to put it all together themselves and make their own decisions about it. You do not teach critical thinking by telling students that you are right.

If you say Khan is not an “educator” then no doubt you do not consider your students, their parents, or any other members of your community capable of being educators, or you think they at least don’t deserve the title just because they haven’t taken the certification test.

or

I am in total support of Khan Academy…

I know you will not like my viewpoint but here it goes,,,,

1. The school classroom model was originally designed by the Prussian military intended to create an obedient society by providing a platform for authority and for its children to recognize and submit to this authority. The rationale for this control model (classroom) was to mobilize its young citizens in times of war. The classroom model was eventually adopted by the west including North America. Today we have the industrial military complex to address national security yet this classroom or should I say military model still persists.

The mindset to control students is evidence by the grading system, devised and adopted in the 17th century and still used in 2012. And this is the crux of my argument. It is my opinion school marks are draconian, pschologically damaging, and counter productive for both the A student as well as for the C student. I will not even speak of the poor F student. Furthermore, school marks are often misused by the authority figures (teachers) and given for behavioral modification. Children who follow instruction, are non disruptive, and are obedient are often awarded with a good mark and children who are less inclined to follow or independently minded with less favorable marks. May I mention Enstein here?

It is in my opinion the grading system has created a society full of followers, who upon graduation from college, are all on the search for employment. There is only a recent awakening due to the sluggish economy that perhaps entrepreneurialship needs to be moved to the forefront in the classroom. How though is the teacher going to control independent thinkers, potential leaders using a militaristic method such as a grade marking system to produce our leaders for tomorrow? The output of graduates today struggling to find a job in a shrinking job market is just not working. You may argue that it is not educator’s job to provide employment, and while that was true decades past, today our society is counting on higher education to provide innovation for future employment.

It is my opinion Khan Academy has the potential to replace the marking grade system with its innovative approach usung statistical data to both validate student progress as well as identify challenges requiring additional time for mastery without placing a grade “label” on the student ‘s head. A label that can last a life time sometimes in a very, very negative way. So unjust. Furthermore, both Harvard and MIT, will be releasing in the fall of 2012, EdX, a free online access to their courses offered to the world. If you view the announcement, May 2, 2012 online, you will hear the rationale for this approach, namely they wish to use the statistical data gained by the servers offering the online course material to a worldwide audience whereby they may data collect from these students to better learn and understand the learning processes, something, Khan Academy has been doing since 2004!

2. My biggest excitement with Khan Academy is its revolutionary scalability. Instead of the teacher having to repeat his/her lectures over and over again, a one-time video can now be created in a more intimate, less talked-down approach and shared with the World. Imagine the scalability to view and witness to lectures being delivered by the very best teachers the world has to offer.

In closing, the true reason you have created this website is that you are scared for your job and I empathize. May I say in closing, your profession is not alone in this disruption due to technology. Perhaps the definition of employment needs to be addressed but that is a different topic for another time.

Thanks for allowing me my viewpoint on your website.

Khan Academy is here to stay !!

You get the idea. First, there are the testimonials. The “Khan Academy worked for me” type comments that remind me of an infomertial at 3 in the morning. Then there are “you’re just worried about your job” comments that are so laughable as to not warrant a response. And then there are the “public schools are failing” and the “wave of the future is having your eyes glued to a computer screen” comments from those that want to seem as if they are cutting edge and hip. They are all taken from the same playbook it seems. If I did not know any better, I would venture a guess that Khan or Gates offered people a free sandwich for spamming blogs, a la StudentsFirst. Alas, there is no evidence for this, so I assume that they have been truly brainwashed through the normal means of propaganda.

Now, when I come across a blog article from a blog I have never seen before, I do a little background check. I read the “About” section, I read some other articles and I come back to the article that drew me there in the first place so I can get a better idea of where the author is coming from. This is not because I run a blog myself, since I did this before I had a blog, but because I do not want to contribute points that have been addressed before. Because I am a new commenter on a website, I usually want to contribute something, you know, new. It is the courteous and thoughtful thing to do.

The Khan Academy sycophants, for the most part, not only refuse to read around this site to see what it is about, but they do not even address the points I make in the articles to which they respond. They literally talk at you, over you, through you. They do not engage you in discussion.

Instead, they repeat the same arguments and traverse the same ground over and over again. There is a word for that on the internet. It is called spam.

Therefore, from now on, before you step up to defend the Khan Academy, take stock of what I said above. Khan spammers will go in the spam filter where they belong. It is not worth my time, nor the time of the readers, to have to hear the same arguments again and again.

On the bright side, many recent and thoughtful comments were left under the Khan Academy articles listed above by one Michael Paul Goldenberg. Sorry it took so long for me to approve the comments. Here is an example (as opposed to the comments above, they are worth the read):

You can’t appease the fanatic defenders of Sal Khan and KA. It’s impossible. They refuse to accept any questioning of his work, his work ethic, his knowledge, his goals, his character, or his knowledge of mathematics (let alone other subjects). No one has proper standing to critique Sal Khan. NO ONE. If you teach, you’re jealous, weak, afraid, threatened, lazy, stupid, conservative (hah!!!), REACTIONARY (hahahahahaha!!!), racist (yes, I’ve seen that one, defender of the status quo, ad nauseam. If you’re a potential “competitor,” then obviously you’re trying to crush your “opponent.” If you’re a professor, well, see “teacher”; and worse, because professors are all commies, and some are fat (see the commentary on the MTT2K first video), well, we needn’t take their criticism seriously. And if you’re none of those (I’m an independent educational consultant who coaches high school math teachers on a per diem basis in Detroit. I have no long-term contracts, no union, and no one yet has suggested that using KA would make my work obsolete, nor do I have the slightest fear of him or his work. Were what he was doing of real quality, i would be recommending him unhesitatingly. I do recommend the free videos of others. Why not Sal’s? I think my many criticisms of him and his work make that crystal clear.

Here’s my strongest reason for critiquing Khan’s work: I care deeply about kids, about math, about democracy, and I think KA undermines kids’ thinking, disrespects mathematics, and ultimately will be seen to be anti-democratic and pro-elitist and plutocracy. Let’s see where this all is next month, next year, next decade. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stay silent because a bunch of Khan-trolls need to make up a bunch of lies and insults to justify their bad taste and willingness to call McDonald’s hamburgers a healthy, nutritious, delicious meal.

Check out his other comments on the Khan Academy articles as well.

Happy reading Khan lackeys. Look forward to trashing your mindless drivel in the future.

Occupy Outer Space

Elon Musk, visionary, hero or deity?

Last night, “60 Minutes” kicked off the show with a story entitled “Space X: Entrepreneur’s Race to Space”. The story featured Elon Musk, head of a company called Space X, who the story lauds as a visionary in the field of space travel. Musk envisions his company making regular space flights to the point where it becomes affordable and widespread. He wants the human race to be interplanetary colonizers because it is obvious that the earth on which we currently live is headed for doom. Currently, Musk has a $1.6 billion contract to make regular trips to the international space station. He is the only private contractor to send a spacecraft into orbit and retrieve it.

This segment was very similar to the segment 60 Minutes aired last week about Salman Khan. They both tell stories about visionaries with big plans for humankind. Both of these visionaries work out of the private sector. They both hope to transform functions currently handled by moribund government bureaucracies.  Both stories tugged at the heart strings, painting their respective stars as selfless servants of the human race. Both stories only made glancing mention of their critics, who were dismissed out of hand as close-minded curmudgeons.

Musk has received criticism from Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, the first and last men on the moon. Musk was shown towards the end of the segment with tears in his eyes over the fact that his “heroes” have been so dead-set against his visionary company. He cannot understand why they do not see that Space X represents the future of space travel. It would be tough for anyone to see why they would have a problem with Space X if all they had to go on was this 15 minute segment.

While space travel is not my area of expertise, it seems that Armstrong and Cernan are concerned about its corporatization. They testified before Congress last year that they believed the Obama administration lacks vision when it comes to the space race. Obama has put the government’s money on private contractors like Space X to make regular space flights to the International Space Station. For two guys who landed on the moon thanks to a massive government investment in science and technology, Obama’s program “destines our nation to become one of second- or even third-rate stature”, in the words of Neil Armstrong.

Gutting NASA in favor of privatizing the space program was a trend that started under Bush 43. With all of the celebration of Elon Musk as a visionary, the truth is that the private sector revolves around turning profits. What Armstrong and Cernan are getting at is the problem behind giving space travel over to the marketplace. They come from an era when space travel was a patriotic venture; something American citizens could get behind. Now it is being relegated to the domain of dollars and cents, with all of the corner-cutting that entails.

The biggest story of all is how people can still, after the last three decades of corporatocracy, claim that corporatizing a venerable public institution like NASA or the education system is tantamount to “progress”. There is nothing new under the sun here. Rather than a forward step, corporatizing space travel is an outgrowth of the same old worship of the private sector we have seen from both political parties and every major media outlet.

What the protests in Greece, the occupations around the United States and the upheaval in the Middle East have shown is that the next generation is crying out for something collective. They have been reared on the ethos of the private, of the bold CEO, of the visionary business leader and they see that it has led nowhere but inequality and repression.

Like the media so often does, they have turned the narrative on its head. While thousands of young people around the world are fighting to hold public space and build public institutions, 60 Minutes has shown that they know little more than the same old formulaic “visionary business leader” trope.

The youth are already starting to occupy education. Maybe the next occupation should be in outer space.

Khan Academy: If You Don’t Like It, You Don’t Get It

(ATTENTION SALMAN KHAN SYCOPHANTS: PLEASE READ MY LATEST POST ON THE KHAN ACADEMY “60 MINUTES WORSHIPS SALMAN KHAN AND SO DO YOU“. IT IS EVEN MORE WORTHY OF YOUR VITRIOL.”

This comment was left by someone in response to my post Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy. I was saving it because I think it’s a good discussion piece:

Peter Berger

You say “What innovation does Sal Khan offer in American education besides a pause button?” and, disturbingly, you say that as if it’s a small thing. This shows that you’re missing the point. A pause button is a huge leap in pedagogy. A pause button is world-changing.

First, a pause button is an enabler. It gives the student a degree of agency that they simply don’t have in a brick and mortar classroom. Yes, a student CAN interrupt a class and say “Excuse me, Mr. Smith, but I still don’t understand why x raised a negative exponent is the same as 1/x to some positive exponent.” He can do that once a class. Or twice a class. But at some point – and students learn this very quickly – their doing this interrupts the class, interrupts the lesson, and interferes with the other students. The teacher who, quite understandable, has to strike a balance, has to decide between this one student and the rest of the class.

I want a teacher who I can pause. Just for me. I want a teacher who I can rewind. Just for me. I want a teacher who I can ask to repeat a lesson SIXTY TIMES without feeling embarrassed or stupid. THAT is what Khan Academy is offering students. And THAT is all because of the pause button. The pause button is gigantic, humongous, and hugely important, and if you don’t see that it’s because you’re looking in the wrong direction.

The second thing is that the pause button is a user interface enhancement that makes the lesson itself more enjoyable. This leads directly to people wanting to take the lessons, instead of viewing them as annoying. Ask yourself how many times you would use your DVD player, after perhaps bring it once, if it had no pause button. The answer is self-evident: zero.

Lastly, you’re completely ignoring the exercise components of Khan Academy, so that you can focus on the videos. In my experience, young students find the following attributes of the exercise components extremely beguiling: immediate feedback as to whether they are right or wrong, non-judgmental feedback (as in, they don’t feel embarrassed to make mistakes, but rather are motivated to figure out how to do it better), and completely unbounded amounts of practice. KA is always willing to throw more problems at you, for as long as you want to do them.

Does all of this mean that we should throw away brick and mortar schools, or throw away teachers? Of course not. As someone interested in pedagogy, what I want is to improve all schools, and all teachers. You say it’s “difficult to find people willing to say one negative thing about Khan”. To the contrary, the internet is full of articles from defensive teachers who feel threatened by the publicity KA has received. Your criticisms are par for the course. Unfortunately, I think you will find that it is impossible to construct an accurate criticism of a topic until you understand it. You may understand pedagogy, but you clearly don’t understand what it is that KA has brought to the table. Instead of lashing out defensively, perhaps you ought to try harder to understand what it is that KA is doing right, rather than just assuming that it must be doing everything wrong.

Perhaps — just perhaps — you’d learn something. It’s never too late to learn.

I am not going to speak on the tone in which Mr. Berger writes. Instead, I’d rather let you draw your own conclusions about that.

The fact that people believe a pause button is an educational innovation says a lot about how they see teaching. Sure, you can pause and rewind a video however many times you want. What do you get? The same thing over and over, repeated in the same way.

I know that when students ask me to clarify something, I present the information in a different way than I did originally. That is part of thinking on your feet as a teacher. Every question and comment that a student shares is indirectly a commentary on the lesson. It shows me which information or skills are getting across and which are not, which then informs the manner in which I deliver the rest of the lesson.

There is a reflexive loop between teacher and student, each one guiding the other on what they require. There is no such thing in the Khan Academy. It is a process that requires two human beings.

I can understand students being afraid to ask questions. Teachers have to make students comfortable with asking questions. There are days when my lessons consist of nothing but students asking questions totally unsolicited by me. Through these questions, we are able to cover the content.

Guess what? A kid cannot ask the Khan Academy any questions.

And for students who really need the extra time, to the point where they need to ask a question sixty times in a row, maybe a video would be handy if the information was low-level. But if a student has to ask sixty different questions sixty different times, then they’re going to need individualized attention. I don’t know many teachers who wouldn’t be willing to provide this type of attention during an off-period or after school. I don’t know many schools that do not have tutoring programs for these types of students. In the most severe cases, I don’t know of any school besides charters that do not have special needs programs.

One thing is for certain: for students with these types of issues, the Khan Academy is pretty far down on the list of tools they might require.

I’ve never spoken on Khan Academy’s activities because I believe them to be so self-evidently flawed that I didn’t think I needed to waste the typing finger energy on them. First, they tell the student whether they are right or wrong. This might come as a surprise, but most answers students give in a real classroom are neither right nor wrong. If you as a teacher are giving assignments that elicit thought and provoke discussion, you are encouraging children to construct their own version of truth. On the other hand, if all you’re worried about is if children follow a predetermined script, then you are shutting the thought process down. This is one of the reasons why the Khan Academy has been criticized by its few detractors as promoting nothing more than simplistic, procedural factoids.

“If you know this, you can go on to this.” That is why there is such an obsession with getting kids to earn virtual badges. It reflects the obsession education reformers have with rote, the type of thing that lends itself nicely to bubble-in exams.

Learning is not about levels and factoids. It is a process that integrates factual and conceptual information and entails emotional and moral growth. Again, a good teacher knows how to integrate these things into a lesson. This type of learning is non-existent in Khan Academy world.

And when people claim that the Khan Academy does not aim to replace real teachers, they are ignoring the hype around Khan and falling in love with Salman’s assurances. The fact of the matter is Khan, as well as a slew of online learning programs, have already begun the process. Students who need credits are taking more and more online classes. Universities are offering more and more online degrees. Obama’s proposed plan to reform public universities called for slashing budgets for professors and offering more online courses.

Khan may not say he wants to replace teachers. The President, Bill Gates and those with power have clearly stated otherwise.

It is only in education where the opinions of professionals count for nothing. When someone comes with a billion dollar program to save schools, like the Khan Academy, and it rightly gets ravaged by teachers, the knee-jerk response is “you’re just afraid of losing your job.” This has become a justification to ignore the concerns of educators and go ahead with schemes conceived in the minds of businessmen, politicians and computer programmers.

Believe it or not, educators are motivated by more than self-interest. The Khan Academy deserves criticism because it is nothing new. It brings no new methods to the pedagogical table. Their videos consist of lectures, diagrams and activities that have the feel of games. While the people who push Khan’s videos usually come from outside of the education world, educators who have been teaching children for years recognize Khan for what it is: lectures on tape with a bunch of bells and whistles. None of those lectures or bells does anything any differently from a real teacher. In many cases, it does it worse than an average teacher.

So when educators ravage Khan, it comes from a place not just of self-interest, but the interests of our children. We don’t want our kids to be sat in front of a screen and told it is education. While Bill Gates and all the other reformers continue to send their children to elite private schools with old teachers and small classes, everyone else’s children gets Khan’s videos. Instead of an education that nourishes all parts of the mind and spirit, Khan offers low level knowledge.

And the final reason why educators might dislike Khan is that the people who push it show such disdain for educators and what they do. Khan himself does not have one educator on his team, preferring to use people from the computer programming world instead. The people who support Khan, like the post above shows, thinks teaching children is about drilling facts into heads. It is like they imagine Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller every time they think of teachers.

Just because someone is not impressed with the Khan Academy does not mean they do not understand it. The emperor simply has no clothes.

Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy

Click to play your quality education.

(ATTENTION SALMAN KHAN SYCOPHANTS: PLEASE READ MY LATEST POST ON THE KHAN ACADEMY “60 MINUTES WORSHIPS SALMAN KHAN AND SO DO YOU“. IT IS EVEN MORE WORTHY OF YOUR VITRIOL.”

Let me just lay it on the line for all of the proponents of the Khan Academy.

First, I believe Salman Khan is a good man. He believes in what he does and certainly has a grand vision. Moreover, anybody who can attain several degrees from MIT and build a non-profit empire is nobody’s fool. There is a reason why so many people admire him.

And this is precisely the reason why his academy needs its critics. The fact that it is so difficult to find people willing to say one negative thing about Khan makes criticism that much more urgent. The popularity of an idea or a person to me is a tremendous argument against it. I do not fall in line so easily.

But that is just the start.

People have taken issue with the sarcastic tone in my previous posts (here and here) about the Khan Academy. What they do not seem to grasp is that my sarcasm is a reaction to the insufferable arrogance of many of Khan’s proponents. There is a tremendous haughtiness in claiming that something is the “future”.  Not only is it impossible to foresee all of the variables that might shape the future, it is an abdication of your individual responsibility in making conscious choices about the future. Just because something looks like it might bring a paradigm shift does not mean it has to be unquestionably embraced. I am still of the quaint school of thought that the future is what we make of it.

As an educator, I am used to people swooping in with their magic bullets, making all types of wild claims about this or that being the savior of education in America. All of them, every single one, now lie on the trash heap where they belong. I am not saying this will necessarily be Khan’s fate, only that I have good reason to be skeptical.

The arrogance goes even further than that.

The assumption that many of Khan’s supporters make is that brick and mortar schools are failing. Having spent 25 of my 33 years on this planet in brick and mortar classrooms, I beg to differ. Schools are an outgrowth of society. Children in the inner cities who drop out of school do so because of conditions in that society, not because their schools have failed them. There are children who are born to parents in gangs. There are neighborhoods where the only strong male role models are drug dealers and criminals. There are households where the television is on 24 hours a day. In short, there are children, millions of them, who are born into a world where there are no expectations for them outside of the streets, jail and an early grave. If schools are failing, it is because society is failing. If there is an academic “achievement gap”, it is because children are born into a world where a socioeconomic achievement gap is already well entrenched.

This is not excuse-making or scapegoating. This is reality. The actual scapegoaters are the people who blame schools for this inequality. Doing so allows them to continue to put their fingers in their ears so they can go on pretending poverty and horrid inequalities are not real problems in need of solutions, let alone discussion.

And because most of the critics of brick and mortar classrooms are so far removed from those classrooms, they can approach the issue in no other way than to look at standardized test scores. Never mind the fact that the research on the efficacy of judging children and schools by test scores is murky at best. Never mind the fact that countries with the best school systems, like Finland, eschew testing. Never mind that Finland gives their teachers autonomy over the profession so that outsiders cannot just waltz in and offer their half-digested opinions on what teachers should be doing. None of this matters to Khan Academy advocates, because their advocacy is based on supreme arrogance.

Somehow, the Khan supporters who have made their way to this website have accused me of misunderstanding Khan’s vision. Yet, they leave it at that and do not show me where the misunderstanding lies. Again, after years of seeing magic bullets in education, I can spot when the emperor has no clothes.

To assume that Khan is doing anything new outside of making videos is just nonsense. It is just plain insulting to have people assume that Khan does things that teachers in brick and mortar classrooms are not doing. You do not think teachers are building lessons inductively? You do not think teachers are bending over backwards to use technology in their lessons? You do not think teachers provide a wide range of activities, differentiated (as the current jargon goes), for varied learning levels and styles? You do not think teachers monitor what their students do, without the need for fancy graphs to show them which of their students did what in how much time? You do not think teachers give out awards, accolades, praise and encouragement, just like Khan awards badges to students for being experts? I shudder to think what you actually think teachers are actually doing.

Yes, I realize that Sal Khan’s ideal classroom is one where students build robots and solve problems for most of the day. How much robot building do you think will go on in classrooms in Harlem, whether that classroom has a flesh-and-blood teacher or one made of pixels? Are you willing to provide the resources (through your taxes) to shower schools with the materials needed for students to engage in such activities? Do you think Sal Khan is the first person with the bright idea of project-based, hands-on learning?  The arrogance is astounding.

I have an arrogant question of my own: what innovation does Sal Khan offer in American education besides a pause button?

But the saving grace of the Khan acolyte is the idea that Khan’s is a worldwide vision. We can put a few Khan videos in our pockets, go to Africa and bring education to the kids over there. I have no doubt that Khan and his supporters are genuine in this belief. I also have no doubt this represents more of the same arrogance.

Sure, we could send an army of educational missionaries to the underdeveloped world. It would be an efficient way to educate masses of people on the cheap. What the heck, right? This is the educational wave of the future.

Instead of asking if we could, maybe we should first ask if we should. Does this really represent the best that we can do at the moment for the schooling of children worldwide, including our own children? After generations of sucking the third world dry of its resources, dropping bombs on their homes and meddling in their politics, are we really so easily duped as to think Khan videos can even begin to uplift the education of their children? It is typical, well-fed western arrogance. It is the same belief that leads us to think that designer jeans, rock music and movies make people in other countries better off. These are signs of what we think “civilization” is. The Khan Academy is the Levi’s of schools.

The greatest gift we can give to the children of the entire world is the gift of providing a quality education to our children first. The greatest way we can be a beacon of hope to everyone else is if the children of America’s inner cities are provided with the same education currently reserved for the children of America’s elite. It is amazing how Bill Gates can tout the Khan Academy as the panacea for everyone else’s children. While the Bloombergs, Broads and Obamas of the world send their children to brick and mortar schools with small class sizes and all the enrichment activities one could ask for, everyone else’s children are given the url to the Khan Academy.

It is the absolute pinnacle of arrogance to assume we can uplift the people of other countries without uplifting our own. We have not learned what a true investment in America’s education would mean, yet we think we can bring that lesson to every corner of the earth. We have a duty to the rest of the world to be honest with ourselves first. Until that time, we are merely being disingenuous.

Educating is about providing role models. America has a duty to be a role model to the rest of the world. While Khan and his admirers are genuine in their vision, it is not a vision that will make us the role models that our children, and the children of the world, need us to be.

Finally, More Criticism of the Khan Academy

(ATTENTION SALMAN KHAN SYCOPHANTS: PLEASE READ MY LATEST POST ON THE KHAN ACADEMY “60 MINUTES WORSHIPS SALMAN KHAN AND SO DO YOU“. IT IS EVEN MORE WORTHY OF YOUR VITRIOL.”

My last criticism of Salman Khan’s Khan Academy was met with much criticism of its own. Many people are firmly convinced that Khan’s videos are the future of education. The comments section was just a small taste of how fervently people have embraced Salman Khan. Since then, cogent criticisms of the Khan Academy have been tough to come by.

That is why I appreciate the detailed essay posted on the Mathalicious website about the Khan Academy’s videos. Whenever someone writes one bad word about the genial Salman Khan, you can be sure a line of psychophants will line up to educate that person about how they are just too dumb to realize that Sal represents the future of schooling.

Read the post and then the comments and you will see this scenario play out like clockwork. This is just more evidence that we need more criticisms of the Khan Academy on the internet.

The Khan Academy and the Snake Oil of Education Deform

(ATTENTION SALMAN KHAN SYCOPHANTS: PLEASE READ MY LATEST POST ON THE KHAN ACADEMY “60 MINUTES WORSHIPS SALMAN KHAN AND SO DO YOU“. IT IS EVEN MORE WORTHY OF YOUR VITRIOL.”

——- Original Post———

The Huffington Post ran their Best in TED Talks for 2011. Coming in at number two is Salman Khan, whose online Khan Academy they tout as educational manna from heaven. His videos have made him the favorite “educator” of Bill Gates. Khan is a bright young man, an ivy-league graduate and perhaps the single best representation of what is wrong with the education deform movement.

Khan has a great backstory. He started out by tutoring a relative online. His lessons were very clear, helped along by a computer drawing program that helped the student visualize math concepts. Khan realized that, if he could do this with math, he could do this with any subject. The idea for the Khan Academy was born. Since then, he has used his own resources and time to make thousands of videos on a wide range of subjects.

First, who has the time and the resources to make thousands of educational videos? That’s right, an ivy-league grad who comes from money who does not have to worry about things like holding down a job. But, he is an educational innovator, right? What educator has ever used visuals and pacing when teaching new concepts? How about, MOST EDUCATORS? The first thing that came to mind when looking at Khan’s videos was, “hey, that is what I do.” All of my lessons start out basic and work up the ladder of complexity. I am helped along by visuals that I have either photocopied for my students or drawn on the board. (Yes, there is plenty to draw when teaching history.)

But, in the eyes of the general public, public school teachers who do this every day are lazy union bums who are afraid of the Khan Academy’s awesome, cutting-edge pedagogy. The way I see it, there are only two differences between Khan and most teachers I know: 1) we are not wealthy and so Americans do not automatically worship everything we say and 2) we teach in the flesh and not on a screen. We do not have the time to make thousands of videos because we are too busy dealing with real life children with real life learning and behavior issues.

“Oh, but the student can go at their own pace with Khan Academy videos.” Yeah, that is a great argument. Apparently, the pause button on youtube will be the savior of the education system. A kid can stop a lesson whenever their cell phone rings or whenever they want to do some facebooking. There will be no teacher or parent there requiring their kids have even a modicum of an attention span. I wonder if this is the type of education Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or Arne Duncan would want their own kids to have. I forgot, the “Academies” they send their children to have real teachers with small class sizes. The rest of us get “virtual” academies like Khan’s. It is perfect training for all of the virtual jobs, homes and relationships our kids will have when they are grown.

The last refuge of the Khan cheerleader is “this is not the solution to our education problem, it is just one more tool educators can use.” I would believe that if Khan was not co-opted by the Gates Foundation. I would believe that if Khan had locked himself up in a dingy basement somewhere making these videos, then networked with educators across the country and said “here, you can use this for your students, it is a learning aide”. He would be a true philanthropist and educator in that case. Instead, he has allowed himself to become a deformer shill and believes in his own propaganda that his videos represent a paradigm shift in education.

No, Salman Khan represents what is wrong with the deform movement. He assumes that he is the first to use what amounts to a very basic teaching technique. The assumption is that teachers in public schools have not discovered this inspired, cutting edge pedagogical method of drawing pictures and building towards complexity. He has the one method that unlocks learning in any subject with any child and he is going to show all of us idiots how it is done. Because he is wealthy and educated we buy into the propaganda about him, while he has bought into it himself.

My response to Sal Khan and his adorers is this: nice videos. You have a knack for teaching. The only difference between me and you is that you are on a screen and I am in flesh. Kids can press pause on you and come back to you later. I, on the other hand, have to help my students resist their desire to press pause on me when they tire of my lesson. That is because my class has no pause button. If they press pause in my class, that means they have tuned me out and become alienated from me, the subject, the school and the learning process in general. No, I cannot afford to have my students press pause, Mr. Khan. I have to teach my kids to not press pause. I have to teach this because they live in a world where pausing and restarting is the way to handle problems. Not incidentally, pausing and restarting are two functions you can find on a Microsoft Xbox or PC. I suppose this is why you are Bill Gates’ favorite educator. You see, he wants a generation of people who internalize pausing and restarting. Just because Bill Gates and half the nation celebrates your genius does not mean you have found the keys to teaching. You’re a smart man, Mr. Khan, but I have been doing what you do for over a decade now, only better and in the flesh. While you have been celebrated, I have been vilified. Even this criticism will be interpreted by your supporters as another lazy teacher scared of losing his tenure and his job. Believe that prejudice if you want. I am more concerned with the fact that my students will grow up without attention spans or imaginations or the ability for critical thinking because we are obsessed with the ideas of well-spoken wealthy people who believe kids can be educated on computers and be taught that filling in bubbles on a test is “learning”.  I am concerned with creating a future of automatons instead of citizens. Worst of all, I am worried that they will grow up to be the type of automatons that drool over the hare-brained, ill-conceived words of wealthy people that think they occupy a higher moral plane because they have won in business. I want the next generation to be citizens with the ability to question power and wealth. This is what you fear, which explains why you hate teachers like me.