Finally, More Criticism of the Khan Academy


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.

31 responses to “Finally, More Criticism of the Khan Academy

  1. Just a little quote for you:
    “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
    – George Bernard Shaw.

    • And I’m sure Shaw would be as brilliant as he was if he got his education whilst sitting at a computer.

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg

      And not everything that is “new” (and Khan Academy ISN’T new and neither are Sal’s antiquated, clunky, ill-prepared math lectures) indicates progress. Sal represents a very old pedagogy, one I’ve been fighting for two decades. Wake up folks: quoting Shaw would be impressive if only it were on-point.

  2. Absolutely incorrect. PLEASE READ ALLLLLL OF THE comments on the that blog post. The comments by Jeremy Millington and Tom Lobach are fair criticism of KA critics. To generalize all KA supporters would be as wrong as generalizing KA critics.

    • I have read allll the comments and invited others to do the same. I never said all KA’s defenders were zealots, only that the zealots were there in force. Was it generalizing? Maybe. But even the more “fair” defenders of the KA are working from assumptions that brick and mortar classrooms do not/cannot do what KA does. Therefore, in that way, they are zealots and uninformed about schooling in America actually is.

      • Michael Paul Goldenberg

        What’s troubling isn’t that there are some zealots, but that they are so monolithic in their attacks. They appear to be in some cases the same person posting under several screen names. They have a small and vicious playbook out of which they appear to copy the same attacks on anyone and everyone who raises any doubt about Khan and his academy. That’s simply not normal unless we’re talking about politics or religion. Which, on my view, precisely describes what’s going on. A financially and politically fueled religion.

        Sure, not all Khan supporters are nasty, nuts, or necessarily wrong about everything. But throw a dart at the comments they level at his critics and the chances of hitting one of the polite, thoughtful, sane ones is near-zero.

  3. Pingback: Putting It All On The Table About The Khan Academy | assailedteacher

  4. Pingback: The Khan Academy and the Snake Oil of Education Deform | assailedteacher

  5. Sal is good with his science lectures but he should stay away from posting the bias, superficial history videos because it can do more harms than good. Search “Khan academy bias” for more information. Also see here
    You don’t want your children learn history just from Sal. Thanks.

  6. I’m just going to talk about math here because that is the core of what makes Khan academy something revolutionary. It is not just a video site, and if people think it is then they have completely missed the real point.

    In short, the “practice” section with its videos replaces what all lectures, textbooks, worksheets, and tests were were always supposed to do and does a much better job because it does not let the teacher be the sole holder of knowledge who releases that knowledge at a prescribed time.
    There are many teachers that should be replaced by Khan Academy because they are not doing anything that can’t be done by a computer program.
    The real educators, the ones who get excited about hands-on teaching should be extremely happy to be released from such gruntwork as correcting tests. It will be their pleasure to work through real physical and relevant experiences with their students and leave the abstract end of it to the computer. It will be their intellectual challenge to figure out what a teacher’s job really should be and take it far beyond that sort of thing that is easily replaced.
    I think Khan himself has tried to be pretty clear on this idea. For him it is things like building robots, for others it might be addressing social or environmental problems, but none of it can happen unless the abstract groundwork is laid.
    One thought that does occur to me is that, used properly, Khan academy might not save schools money. Instead of spending minimal amounts on textbooks and copy paper, they might have to invest in whatever supplies individual teachers need to carry out their new visions: research and fabrication labs, field trips, who even knows. True educators can help but be excited by the prospect of this future.
    (Lousy educators might just be excited by the prospect of doing less work for the same old result- those people need to find a new career)

  7. Larry Vandervert

    As the khan Academy approach develops you will find that its individual-driven, repetitious processes will develop innovative thinkers. Please see the “creativity” entry in Wikipedia, section 8.1 on working memory and creativity.

  8. It all depends on how the resource is used. I personally hold the marginalised belief that 9th grade schooling (and this is WORLD WIDE) and onwards caters to 99% of the population when more than 50% don’t need the vast majority of it. I had a friend who completed year 12 and could never fully wrap his head around trigonometry until he became a carpenter years later (just to give an example), at which point, he used it all the time and it made perfect sense. Khan Academy and similar concepts would be a perfect resource for anyone to brush up on theory behind something that is baffling them in their practical life, or replace a high school / college / university classroom that teaches 20 (or more) students at a time, who all come from different levels of understanding and grasp concepts at different paces, let them use their time to learn at a pace they can keep up with or rush through if they already know most of it, and save the “classroom” time for social development or group discussion on the practicalities and implications of the subject material, instead of wasting valuable classroom time trying to plant a basic concept into everyone’s brain.

    • Larry Vanderverft

      Over the next year or two the Khan Academy lessons will be modified in ways analogous to the economics of the market place. “Buyers” (those using the lessons) will determine where it goes; the Khan Academy will innovative to meet the demands and expectations of the buyers–the Academy will innovate. This free enterprise education (really a curricular part of the charter schools movement) will produce the best possible education for the information technologies times which are relentlessly coming down the road worldwide. Bill Gates likely know this.

      • Michael Paul Goldenberg

        What’s going to change Khan’s fundamental lack of pedagogical or pedagogical content knowledge? What’s going to make him actually work hard at preparing a lesson? What’s going to make him be accurate and careful about what he says about math (and I will restrict myself to my own area of work and interest, though as an ex-English teacher, I shudder at what he might do with literature. Just what the world needs: Cliff’s Notes done by a complete ignoramus. But on a stick! (I mean, on a video).

        The bottom line for Mr. Khan will be The Bottom Line. Whatever gets him paid, folks. Bill Gates is in for at least $2 million so far. An Irish donor is in for $6 million. All the media are licking Khan’s behind. Why would he waste his time trying to offer filet mignon when he can serve McDonald’s and be world famous and rake in the millions he asks for?

  9. Larry Vanderverft

    Bill Gates likely knows this.

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg

      If Bill Gates knows something worth knowing about education, it’s an accident or it has to do with how he can make more money.

  10. Braden Hodges

    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?

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg

      Yes, every anecdotal evidence about Khan is of this type: “I (or my friend, or my girlfriend’s cousin’s best friend’s ex-boyfriend) was failing [math subject] but after watching KA vids, passed the class/got a good grade/got an A, and is now [studying partial differential equations at MIT/King of Lithuania/Obama’s go-to person on sub-atomic physics]. Why do I doubt that anyone could become a truly knowledgeable mathematics student past the procedural level via KA? Is it because Sal himself seems indifferent to making sense of math except perhaps when stealing ideas from people like Dan Meyer or James Tanton? Is it because there is very little in the Khan videos I’ve suffered through that is grounded in understanding, concepts, or (perish the thought), struggling with something challenging (and I mean challenging at the level of mathematical knowledge and maturity one would expect of someone watching a given video to actually learn something. That is, a PROBLEM for that particular person, not an exercise for them, and most certainly not a problem that would only be suitable for someone who knew a lot more mathematics).

      One of the worst things about KA is its inability/failure to give its users the smallest clue about what it means to do mathematics. Given his ability to gain a following, it’s simply criminal that Sal has not done this. Others have done so, free of charge. James Tanton, James Grimes, Paul Zeitz, and Dan Meyer (though his focus is more towards teachers) come to mind right away. They’re not alone. And none of them are getting millions from Gates or anyone else. Since three of them are professional mathematicians and one is a young but gifted and surprisingly experienced high school math teacher, now finishing a doctorate at Stanford, someone might find that curious. I don’t. Gates knows what sort of product he wants to support, and it isn’t the best possible. If you doubt that, just look at Windows. Or Internet Explorer.

  11. because a university gives you a pieces of paper.
    I would not be surprised if at some point soon enough there existed accredited certifying organizations that will grant you a degree based on a series of tests and portfolio evaluation (there are already unaccredited ones). This would de-couple the business end from the learning end, allowing individuals to choose the form of education that’s right for them. Any college course that does not have more to offer than can be gained from reading a book or watching a video will be phased out and the real value of college will be lab experiences and peer collaboration- for those that desire it.

  12. Pingback: New Policy for the Khan Academy | assailedteacher

  13. My partner and I eventually realized finally out the way to publish! Nevertheless, good blogging site and book marked yah for next day.

  14. While I agree with you that khanacademy isn’t perfect, I think that it’s just the idea behind it that many people find so compelling. If this guy can do it, and he’s not really a teacher, imagine what would happen if hundreds of really good teachers got together and for once instead of nitpicking and arguing did something for the benefit of the world in this sort of not-for-profit way.
    And about the zealots, I have one thing to say. You’re too much of an idealist if you think they’ll ever disappear. On anything that can be debated (and even on things that should be facts) there will always be extremists who will disgrace everyone who is moderate in their beliefs. This goes both ways, by the way, as I have seen some criticism of the academy which is just plain stupid on the internet.
    As for the academy itself, I use it as a supplementary resource. If I’m confused about something or I was dying of a lack of sleep in class and I didn’t remember anything of the lecture, his videos (for math and science, I haven’t tried any of the other subjects) have helped me. They just generally clear up my confusion.
    So like everything in life it has its pros and cons, but don’t label it as entirely bad, and don’t criticize all of us who defend it, because while it may not help you, it may help us.

  15. Pingback: Reconsidering the Khan Academy – @ THE CHALK FACE knows SCHOOLS MATTER

  16. Pingback: David Coleman’s Latest Khan | the becoming radical

  17. francesca cummins

    I am a 46 year old nurse who HAS to go back to school and complete my degree. I have not taken a college math class in 25 years. Back “in the day” when I did take them, it was extraordinarily difficult. I was the chick in the front of the class almost in tears as the class moved forward with the next lesson and I felt completely lost. For me and many others like me, Khan Academy is a way to refresh some of the math skills lost over the years and a way to review something we didn’t understand in class. I am just grateful for any help I can get. It isn’t perfect but it’s helpful.

  18. right to education

    I normally don’t like posting comments on blogs ad try to be neutral, but couldn’t help myself.
    Firstly I assume the people who hate khan either do it cause they hate everything or are teachers who are assuming they will loose their jobs in future.
    If I have read Sal’s concepts correctly he wants to offer a channel where kids who are struggling to understand math’s or have no access to good teachers use these videos. We all know not all teachers can teach. They can be brilliant themselves by distributing the knowledge is an Art not everyone has.
    Everyone here is making it about themselves, and most of the comments are from people who have the resources to find alternate educators.
    Do consider that world is not just you or where you live. In Africa and most of Asia Government school does not have teachers because of the pay, so what do the students do if there is no one to teach them. Are you guy saying they shouldn’t use Khan Academy because you think he does not know how to teach?
    Everything is a choice; if you don’t like it don’t use it. If you think you can do a better job than by all means create a YouTube channel and teach these people the correct way of doing math’s or whatever you think you are an expert at.
    Criticizing is not a positive way to change. Leading by example is.

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