It seems everyone is wild about Khan Academy, offering it up as an example of how to revolutionize education, especially Bill Gates who has contributed a small part of his money to the project.
But what I found was that Khan was just an OK teacher. His examples are not well planned. His pacing is inconsistent. I’d say that at least half the math teachers in this country could do at least as good a job as Khan does. What is ironic about Bill Gates admiration of Khan is that Gates is investing so much energy right now into identifying what makes a great teacher to create better teacher evaluations. Yet the person he considers the best teacher is merely adequate.
Which, of course, also points up the fallacy of allowing someone with a high profile, lots of money, and little understanding of the teaching process to drive education reform.
So, what about that part saying that many teachers could to do a better job than Khan? Maybe instead of funding a collection of canned lessons from one person, this might be the better way for Bill to spend his money.
What we need is a platform where teachers can upload their videos and the ones that are the best can be featured and those teachers can achieve some Khan-like fame. Instead Khan has a monopoly as the one man show.
I’d go even farther and open the platform to students. There are also many kids who could create better instructional materials than Khan, and they often come with better insight than most adults about what it takes to explain complicated topics to their peers.
However, there is one more major reason why the Khan Academy is bad for instruction, especially math, the topic around which his fame was built.
Rote tutorials like this reinforce the concept that math is all about mastering the process, about learning to take select the correct algorithm, plug in a few numbers, and crank through a solution, the one and only correct answer.
Math in the real world is far more interesting, interconnecting not only with science but the social sciences, business, and many other disciplines. We do our students a great disservice by making them think the largely boring work we do in school is “real” math.