(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.”
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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.