Ten-year-olds are doing inverse trigonometry with the help of Khan Academy—the revolutionary but simple online math curriculum composed of over 2400 brief Youtube lectures.
Even more interestingly, they’re now doing so in public schools. At least one California teacher has realized that she can beat the “teaching to the middle of the class” problem by leveraging Khan’s lessons. Children can watch the videos at home, then in class some jet ahead with problems while others who need more help get the focused attention of the teacher.
Khan Academy has so far been viewed with suspicion by teachers unions: if kids can all learn from a guy on Youtube, that puts teachers’ jobs at risk. Thus, Khan has draw a good bit of criticism for his lack of teaching credentials, training, method, and other guild vetting phrases. Wired reports, “Critics argue that Khan’s videos and software encourage uncreative, repetitive drilling—and leave kids staring at screens instead of interacting with real live teachers.”
While such indictments may ring with the shallow desperation of “homeschoolers are poorly socialized,” you can be certain they have many proponents.
Nevertheless, with many public schools facing difficult budget decisions, teachers may have good reason to fear: Khan’s Academy is absolutely free.
And he doesn’t care to bend for government schools:
Khan doesn’t seem to care whether he changes the school system. Indeed, he’s leery of working too closely with school districts, because it would require him to adhere to their rules and expectations. Until now, he has followed his own instincts in building his library of videos and software—recording the subjects his cousins needed, then gradually adding those that he found interesting or that he thought students would benefit from. But schools have a firm curriculum they have to march through, and the Los Altos teachers often find they’re moving on to subjects that Khan hasn’t covered in detail.
Khan is gamely attempting to fill those holes. But he’s not breaking his back, because he doesn’t want the school system and its byzantine standards determining what he does with his site. Indeed, he argues, trying to serve taskmasters in different districts in 50 states is one of the reasons so many educational software companies produce such dull sludge: Much like teaching to the mythical “middle” of a class, the process strips teaching materials of any eccentricity and playfulness. “I don’t want to be a vendor,” he says with a shrug.
In essence, Khan doesn’t want to change the way institutions teach; he wants to change how people learn, whether they’re in a private school or a public school—or for that matter, whether they’re a student or an adult trying to self-educate in their kitchen in Ohio. Or Brazil or Russia or India. . . .