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Learning at its Best

Meeting Sal Khan

I attended an independent schools conference outside Seattle yesterday (Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools Educators’ Conference: Innovation and Change in the Classroom).  I was excited to listen to keynote speaker Sal Khan of the unvelievably “trending” Khan Academy.  Upon arrival I was surprised to receive a note that my question (which I had previously e-mailed in) had been selected to be the closer and that I’d have a chance to ask it before the packed auditorium of about 1,000 teachers & educators.  COOL! – you have to understand, I don’t get out much and to me, this is a big room.

For those living under an even bigger rock than me, a few years ago, Sal Khan started posting a small series of math videos for his cousins.  This grew into a larger series and in the last 18 months he received the attention and $$$upport of Bill Gates, Google execs and others.  Khan now has a very popular TED Talk, worth watching here.  The Khan Academy website now has over 2,000 video lessons in a wide and growing range of subjects as well as on-line exercises and a way to track your progress through material.  The videos have been translated into 12 languages and have had over 80 million views around the world.  (Is this anything like the McDonalds’ billboard, “80 million served here?”)  And national news sources have noticed.

A key point in Mr. Khan’s keynote, as in the TED Talk, is that he is not looking for the online lessons to replace classroom time.  Rather, the byline of the Academy is “Humanizing Education” because of his concept of “flipping” the classroom.  What he is realizing is a change from the traditional highschool format where every student moves in lock step with teachers’ lectures and then goes home to do homework with little or no teacher support.  Instead, here students can proceed through lectures at their own pace and as they have focused time at home, then individual progress can be reported to teacher who can give targeted and individualized support and attention to the kids during the precious class time while they do practice work.  Passive classroom lectures are no more.

Cool idea really, and he went on to talk about all kinds of other innovations and applications that allow for a much more individualized and self-directed (post-modern, perhaps) vision of education.

But still, something about kids watching videos as any significant piece of their education bugs me somehow.  And even when lecturing, a good teacher shares something through his relationship with the students.  There is still reciprocity, give and take.  When lecturing I am looking for eye contact and body language, I am adjusting and modifying both content and methods depending on how material is being received.  I want to share the learning experience with the kids, as they’re being exposed to something new.  Even in a lecture format, it’s all about RELATIONSHIP to me.

So my question: “SalI believe that at the heart of any meaningful learning is relationship.  In order for the learning encounter to be meaningful and relevant the learner must be in a caring relationship with the teacher, the subject and the learning community.  I believe that it is only in the context of this relationship that learning can become transformative.  In what ways is relationship embedded into participation in the Khan Academy?

He answered my question by talking about various ways they are tweaking the online platform to allow for more collaboration, contact with tutors or mentors, uploading comments and dialogue, etc.  But my concern remains – if the nexus of any program involves learning from pre-recorded digital sources, I’m troubled.  Also I am suspicious of anything that big money like Google is supporting.  What’s in it for them?  And districts like Palo Alto that are supposedly piloting many Khan-based classrooms?  Am I just paranoid or is anyone else imagining the efficiency of a digitized educational system like this posing a threat to teachers’ jobs eventually, even if it is not Khan’s intention to do so?  Most importantly, where’s the relationship???

Please do explore the Khan Academy’s website, check out some of their promotional materials,  watch the TED Talk.  What do you think?  Is this the kind of transformation you want to see in the educational system?

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About Paul Freedman

I am the founding Director of The Salmonberry School in Eastsound, WA. I have taught elementary school in public and private settings for the past 19 years. I serve as a contributing editor for Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice (Formerly the Holistic Education Review.) I also serve on the faculty of the Self Design Graduate Institute. I hold an MA in EDU from Goddard College.

Discussion

36 thoughts on “Meeting Sal Khan

  1. I was also there at the PNAIS conference and completely agree with checking out Kahn. I loved the back story of how the Academy began. I would also recommend checking out Karen Blumberg from The School at Columbia University (http://karenblumberg.com/pnais). James Watson’s podcasting presentation was also terrific. These presentations and the conversations that occur always encourage and refresh my enthusiasm for engaging in dynamic learning!

    Posted by Vicki Butler | October 16, 2011, 12:14 pm
    • Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for commenting. Was there anything in particular about the Khan Academy that you are reflecting critically on? I think Sal was terrific, dynamic, engaging and personable – a great storyteller, but there’s something about the model, as it goes global, that seems somewhat Orwellian.

      I didn’t attend Karen’s workshop, though am enjoying looking at her slides. One image jumped out at me though on a first glance. The text on slide#32 on “Negotiation” reads: “Negotiation: the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms” It shows a life-size Ronald McDonald in a Namaste hand position bowing slightly to an apparently Indian woman. Is this what is meant by “cultural respect?” After cringing for a while, the image makes me want to have a very long conversation about what values and world views are being brought to “diverse communities” along with multinational corporations’ efforts towards realizing a global economy. Is this an example of cultural sensitivity? Really? I’m curious if this was a joke?

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 16, 2011, 4:31 pm
      • Hi Paul,
        No – the McDonald’s was in an eastern country, I can’t remember which one. The point (I believe) is that we need to go beyond the image or what we associate with an image. It is an actual interaction between those two individuals. As we engage in multiple communities on what we may see as common connections (McDonald’s) we have different perspectives and interactions with those ‘common connections’ – This would be a wonderful conversation to have about what are the common values, common symbols, universal if you will, and how we represent and respond to such images. How would that negotiation play out? Would it change and if so what would change the negotiations?
        I don’t believe that any offense was meant…or intended. But I’m glad you brought this forward.
        Vicki

        Posted by Vicki Butler | October 16, 2011, 6:20 pm
  2. Not a big fan of Khan.

    You unjustly give him credit for flipping idea. It was started by classroom teachers creating their own, customized videos.

    Fresh produce tastes better than canned and is better for you.

    Posted by Mike Kaechele | October 16, 2011, 12:50 pm
    • What bugs you about Khan’s work, besides it being canned produce? Does it have any remaining nutritional value?

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 16, 2011, 4:33 pm
      • I admittedly have not spent much time looking at it, but I am concerned by a few things. I would recommend this blog for in depth critique of Khan http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/tag/khan-academy/

        My main concern is that it is same old lecture, just in a different format-not too revolutionary. I also don’t like the point system it uses for “motivation.” I think we need to re-imagine learning not just repackage it in videos.

        I am much more interested in PBL and authentic learning situations than these videos. They have a bit of use for student to review optionally to learn math algorithms. But they are pretty much useless as promoting deep mathematical thinking.

        Posted by Michael Kaechele | October 16, 2011, 10:44 pm
    • Yes, but canned produce is better than a double cheeseburger and fries.
      Unfortunately, what a lot of students are getting is junk teaching. Khan Academy is not the best solution, but it’s certainly healthier than that.

      Posted by Nathan | October 16, 2011, 4:40 pm
      • Unless the can was dented and salmonella started breeding at the infiltration site, obliterating the positive value of whatever nutrients might have been present. (Is Google $, or some such megacorporation capable of stimulating such a pernicious infection?) And what if the fries were homemade and organic, and the burgers from local grass-fed Kobe beef on whole grain, (non gmo) buns? Is it still junk? What makes it so? Just sayin’…

        Maybe we can only go so far with a metaphor. What do you like or dislike about Khan’s approach, specifically?

        Posted by Paul Freedman | October 16, 2011, 5:05 pm
  3. I think that Khan’s videos can be useful, even if you don’t use the flipped classroom technique. It could be helpful when you’re planning lectures to get some ideas of how to explain things (he does a good job explaining.)

    It can also be a useful supplement for your students. When they are reviewing for a test, or need extra time on a topic, you can send them to Khan’s site.

    I must admit though, as a math student who struggled and stressed over tough homework problems, the flipped classroom idea is appealing.

    Posted by rshain | October 16, 2011, 4:34 pm
  4. I see exactly as it is explained by Sal: a supplemental resource to increase student engagement and provide for more opportunities to receive guidance from the teacher during class. Others see it as more than that – a whole new curriculum or, at worse, a replacement for teachers – and that is very unfortunate. Any time a resource or tool begins to take center stage, we need to be wary.

    Relationship and engagement are the most important things. And that’s why I think Khan Academy is helpful. Where is the relationship in a classroom of 44 high schoolers? Where is the relationship in a university lecture hall of 300-600 students? Or what about in special needs/education at schools where >50% of the student population get only 5-10% ofthe resources?

    I’ve felt a closer relationship with Khan and that community than I ever did in most of my college courses where the professor didn’t know how to teach and only read his lecture slides for an hour.

    It’s all about context – Khan is a great supplement for overcrowded classrooms and self-motivated students who need a little extra attention. But it’s not better than the ideal classroom with low student:teacher ratio or where time and resources allow for project based learning.

    Posted by Nathan | October 16, 2011, 4:35 pm
  5. Hey Paul, What a great conversation following a thoughtful and wonderful-to-read post. I talk about Khan academy a lot when I’m out talking. To me, whatever the downsides (brought forward by you and some commenters), this is about the break up of the academy monopoly on learning. Fundamentally, do we believe there is a place for direct instruction anywhere in the learning portfolio of most people? Many folks think there is. If you gotta do direct instruction, then Kahn, to me, is a pretty good way. I’m not sure how much “relationship” I had with the innumerable lecturers I sat with in the thousands of hours of schooling I had: did they really see me? Was it possible for me to engage them in conversation about my questions, my thinking? I’m not sure that it just an illusion of the lecturer…

    So I’m incredibly excited about opportunities like Khan. And, like you, I am troubled about who is funding them. Which means that critical capacity around what we are consuming as learners grows with availability. But that doesn’t mean that the paradigm isn’t exciting, powerful, what is GOING to happen to learning and new models for how we get educated.

    Appreciatively,

    Kirsten

    Posted by Kirsten | October 17, 2011, 8:22 am
    • Just what I was thinking, Kirsten. What relationship? I had a few teachers I can still remember but I don’t think any relationship with any of them had anything to do with how I did in school. Maybe if they had been horrible or the schools had been as crowded as they are now or we didn’t have the basic supplies that many schools lack now. . . . maybe the teacher’s role would have been different. As it was, my relationships were with my parents, my siblings, my friends. . . teacher was doing her job and I was doing mine. Is there a fear of having that job replaced by online resources? Maybe the job has to evolve to incorporate the new tools.

      Posted by NanceConfer | October 17, 2011, 9:32 am
  6. Hi Kirsten,
    I appreciate your wisdom, but I’m wondering…I don’t believe that “direct instruction” (which I believe does hold a place in meaningful, powerful and holistic education) necessarily equates to a disembodied one-way only communication stream. There is a difference between direct instruction and “download now.” Sal, himself told a wonderful and moving story about teaching his cousin, Nadia, through video and telephone. At one point he could tell from the way she was answering questions that he needed to modify his instructional methods and offer some specific advice. This is what a video can’t ever do.

    You know in The Courage To Teach, right before Parker Palmer explicates his vision of “the Community of Truth” he shows a graphic depicting the dominant top-down paradigm. In this broken model, information flows one way – from the discipline as defined in the academy, to the expert teacher and then through textbooks and to learners. He describes and pictures what he calls “baffles” between each agent in this process, which prevent the risk of any “reverse flow” which might pollute the previous agent. This is precisely the problem for me with Khan. It’s one-way, baby!

    I don’t agree that relationship with a lecturer is an illusion. Hopefully the lecturer still has the capacity for reciprocity. You can chat with him after class. You can raise your hand. And he pours something of himself into his “presentation.” Parker Palmer also has a good example of this in CTT, come to think of it, as he describes a moment when his teaching was being evaluated during a lecture. He talks about his own human needs during the transactional process of teaching. He powerfully and beautifully describes his angst and need for interaction in this moment. I have many of my own stories of this too, both as teacher and learner. I’ll think if there is a succinct one which could help make the point. But I don’t think direct instruction needs to be devoid of humanity or relationship.

    That said, I too am excited about anything that holds the promise of dissolution of the academy. Though, as a Chemistry teacher right now, I do know that when a solid dissolves in a solvent, and then the solvent is evaporated away, that the solute can re-crystalize and re-appear in a purer and harder form than ever. Let’s be wary as we go forward.

    The most exciting promise of a Khan approach to me is the release from an entire class needing to move together in lock-step through a year’s curriculum, one lesson at a time. Let learners move at their own pace and follow their passions! To me, that’s the brilliance of Khan Academy and where it holds transformational potential.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | October 17, 2011, 10:38 am
  7. Hi Paul,

    I want to comment but I am speechless. As long as the goal of an approach is to fight the academy it is reactive, mired in pathology, and not in any way pointing to a future of well-being. So-called innovations such as these have been around forever, only now using tech tools they seem more glamorous. There is still no view of well-being, no understanding of what is worth learning and of who is learning it. We will cease to be enamored with such propositions when our wounds cease to run us. At that point we will not ask an academic question, but a whole being question. (And we will never waste our time wondering about McDonald’s icons–their value will be self evident. Is a conversation really necessary? What other topics might be more interesting? How about the over riding importance of relationship and the self work a real teacher must do to enter into relationships with all their fellow learners.)

    Here’s a story:

    The crazy wise fool Nasruddin was a ferryman. A teacher asked to be ferried across the wide river. “What’s the weather going to be?” asked the teacher.

    “I don’t know nothing about it,” answered Nasruddin.

    “Tut, tut,” said the teacher, “you musn’t use a double negative.Your education has been worthless.”

    Nasruddin was quiet They started to cross the river. Suddenly a storm came and the raft started to capsize.

    “Can you swim?” yelled Nasruddin.

    “No!

    “They you whole life has been wasted for we are going over.”

    Posted by Ba Luvmour | October 17, 2011, 12:35 pm
    • Hi Ba,

      Thanks as always for staying so true to your self, and expressing it all yet again with patience and clarity. I love to swim in your language. Obviously I am with you. Now, stop being such a noodge :-)

      In defense of those who are “reacting” to wounds and attempting to “fight the academy” (though they are more than capable of defending themselves), I believe they might have a point:

      Another story: A group of children was wandering about the train tracks, apparently looking for something in the rail yards downtown. The very same place that a monster freight train had just run over scores of other wandering children each of the previous three nights, causing untold pain and suffering.

      A very wise noodge saw the children wandering and said” Oi, what are these children up to? Why are they wandering aimlessly? Perhaps they are looking outside themselves for direction or guidance, wisdom or inspiration, when what they really need is to begin an inward journey. We must help them to know themselves better so they can realize wellness and wholeness and not wander so much into unsafe places looking for answers that are merely illusions anyway.

      Another wise pragmatist on the scene, said, “Absolutely, my friend. You go sit down with each of them and begin this work. Meanwhile there is a freight train coming, I have born witness to so much pain and suffering during the last three nights, gruesome lacerations, wounds, and anguish of every kind. I think I see a way to redirect this train. I’m not sure if the children will ultimately be saved or returned to wellness, but I do have a pretty good idea what this freight train is about to do to them, so I’m going to pull this lever and try to switch its tracks.”

      Who was right? (I just made this one up, so not sure if it works so well, but do you know what I mean?)

      Posted by holisticdancingmonkeygmonkey | October 17, 2011, 10:13 pm
      • Amigo,

        While I appreciate the point of your story the dichotomy is false. Trying to stay within the story’s breadth, there are children on other track as well. Or, to put it another way, it automatically switches back 10 feet down the line…

        Without being condescending, and willing to back up my position, I will bet five pounds of organic Hood River apples to one authentic Orcas Island photo of an orca (taken by you on that new sailboat) that Khan’s approach will fade into the background as another tool in the toolbox that will be useful to some people to get through a specific problems but will no long term effect on education.

        We have better, more practical work, that has the real possibility of effecting change.

        Posted by Ba Luvmour | October 18, 2011, 12:00 pm
        • Yeah, I’ve thought of about five other problems with my freight train story too. Maybe I’ll try to take some time and try to puzzle out a better one to express what I meant. Or maybe, upon reflection, I’ll just want to retract my point entirely. Hard with this blog thing to stay in real time and think on your feet without tripping over them.

          And, um, as much as I’d love some sweet “Pink Ladies”…no bet.

          Posted by holisticdancingmonkeygmonkey | October 18, 2011, 9:05 pm
    • I’m aspiring to be a “crazy wise fool” when I grow up!!

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 18, 2011, 9:00 am
  8. Paul,
    As always i so appreciate your questions. I am so pleased to hear your question to him about relationship and yet dismayed at his response. Do i think it is good that Khan Academy is getting funded? I am happy for those that i am sure have worked hard to make their dreams come true, but i find the model challenging. It seems that unless there is a radical change in people’s thinking about what education should be about (relationship, well-being, child centered – yes, even in the teen years) then what Khan has to offer will simply be turned into another program that is seen as an alternative. And like Ba says above, these are dime and dozen and have been for years.

    I am concerned about an online model taking over education, i do think that teenagers need interaction with others (no thank you to one-way), and no, not in a lecture format, in a true relationship way. We spend enough time in our personal bubbles interacting with the computer. If it were truly about relationship it would be different. If relationship is the point (relationship to self, to others, to the earth), then how and what and when we learn cease to be so important.
    -A

    Posted by ambersk | October 17, 2011, 7:58 pm
  9. I don’t get this concept of ‘flipped’ classrooms because it sounds exactly like one of the many ways I was taught and use myself. Except instead of watching a video, we worked through a textbook. I honestly don’t know a teacher who ‘lectures’ as the majority of their teaching repertoire – is this a US thing? Or does it only exist in the imagination of non-teachers? I’d like first to see that it is happening before working out how to change it.

    For example, a video on ‘Parts of a cell’ is a giant step backwards – do people actually do that? Because we get out microscopes and look at cells or build models of them by dissolving the shells off eggs or using jelly with different things in it. We even get on the internet and look at lots of pictures. We certainly don’t lecture about it.

    As for the lectures themselves, I do have a problem with some I’ve seen. I’ve only watched a few, because it’s not an area I’m teaching at the moment, but some of them have very poor technique – telling kids “don’t worry about why, just do this?” No matter where it’s being said, that’s a problem. And call me a pedant, but the drawing all over the place and writing .5 instead of 0.5 is important. Maths teachers don’t do things that way to be mean, it’s important further down the track.

    I know he isn’t a professional and the backstory. And I acknowledge at least part of my dislike is probably because I have so many non-professionals telling me another non-professional is doing something better than me. But to me they’re not even a decent resource because I’d have to wade through them to find one that’s a) appropriate and b) not creating as many problems as it solves. It’s not actually helping me create engaging, useful programs.

    Posted by Deb | October 17, 2011, 9:49 pm
    • I have heard the critique before that while Sal is undeniably very engaging, he’s not a “teacher.” What about that? Should you, must you have training and a credential before you can teach effectively? Why wouldn’t Khan just hire the best teachers they could find to do this work; they could afford to? Thoughts?

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 18, 2011, 8:57 am
      • I don’t necessarily think that ‘only teachers can do it properly.’ But at the same time, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot through my years of university and practice and not to acknowledge that is silly. There are reasons for doing things you can only know if you have the specialist perspective. And other reasons you only realise after you’ve tried it in a class and seen the disaster firsthand!

        Yes, if Khan is serious about doing something with his academy he should be hiring professionals. Because his videos are amateurish in more than just the quality (and I have nothing against amateur quality, but there needs to be something to back it up). But personally they would still only be a minor resource for me, because I don’t see that lecturing is usually the best way to teach. And that’s basically all he’s doing, except he’s even less responsive than a lecturer in front of a class.

        Posted by Deb | October 19, 2011, 8:11 am
  10. The Kahn Academy does have a lot to offer. The tone is of an intimate, engaging and informal mathematics tutor. Some students have a fear of mathematics that you can see manifest even physically. This approach could be helpful to them, as it is helpful for self-motivated students wanting another perspective on their current courses’ lectures, or to learn topics not covered at their schools. I love that it is free. Interviewing secondary school students in Finland and Sweden, I have come across students using online forums and open lectures from MIT for example, to learn coding, HTML, advanced physics past what their own school offered. This sort of flexibility is wonderful, and a powerful tool for increasing free access to ideas, teachers, and learning.

    Does it replace classroom learning? Absolutely not. First, it is self-motivated. While this is excellent for some students, many people can benefit from being encouraged to set goals or tackle projects that they would have deemed impossible for themselves, and from having the support to succeed or rise again after failure. Second, there is much more that is being learned in a classroom than academic content, a side of school that is too often undervalued.

    Last, and most troubling to me, there seems to be an urge for policy makers to jump on any success, which the Kahn Academy surely is, and envision it as a solution to the complexities of educating all young people. The sort of standardization implied by having all students learning basic math and science from the Kahn Academy or other venue is disturbing. The best teacher by whatever metric you choose to use, would not be the best teacher for EVERY student. The best curriculum by a given metric would be disastrous for particular students. It could be argued that having everyone learn from Kahn, for example, would create equality: everyone gets exactly the same thing. But human society is complex and more than the sum of its parts. There is something to be said for diversity, innovation, pockets of ferment within schools. It may mean that some students hate some classrooms, but have the potential to be transformed in others. If an educational system is flexible, and if the overall inequality in society were lessened, the risk of such a scenario would be lower.

    Kahn’s work is an excellent resource, and I think he should be applauded for what he offers, but it is not a replacement for the chemistry (alchemy?) of a classroom when it goes well for students. I think it is worth taking risks to keep the transformative potential of schools. But I do think there is a lot to be done in terms of increasing flexibility in what we consider a school or classroom to look like.

    Posted by Saari | October 18, 2011, 8:22 am
  11. Maybe at this point I should say (as I don’t know many of you commenters – which is great) that I did invite Sal and any other Khan Academy staff to post a comment here. Don’t think that’s you, Saari, as I believe you’ve misspelled his name :-) Maybe if someone from KA does post here, they’d like to identify themselves?

    This is a lively discussion, isn’t it? Something about Khan’s work seems to charge people one way or the other and maybe helps us to crystalize some of our beliefs about education.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | October 18, 2011, 8:52 am
  12. I just watched the TED video and am not feeling impressed. I agree with others who have said that this seems like repackaging, not actual innovation. Mr. Khan speaks engagingly about how pleased his cousins were to be able to watch the video in the intimacy of their own rooms, follow along at their own pace, and so forth. Haven’t books traditionally done these things for us? Are videos supposed to be more fun or interesting? What is the big draw? I’m inclined to feel less worried about videos like Kahn’s replacing teachers than I am about them replacing books.

    Posted by mindyfitch | October 27, 2011, 2:53 am
    • Interesting comment… at least in his INTENTION, they will replace lecture instruction – and I think, as I use them in my own class to some effect, videos like the following:

      havent replaced readings but enhanced conceptual understanding and brought another voice into the room. I don’t think the idea that Paddy replaces either me or readings I’m giving them to stimulate discussions I’m facilitating is realistic.

      Posted by colinmegill | October 27, 2011, 12:57 pm
      • Hey Colin,

        Thanks for posting this. And so nice to see you here! I like Paddy and his Terry stories. I also very much appreciate your description of inviting various voices into your classroom. I suppose this could be overdone with a Khan only approach. But, of course, there are many voices and perspectives out there, which we might choose to “invite in.” I agree that this does not mean you are surrendering the “authority” (as in author-ing of) your class. I don’t think Paddy supplants you or your students’ reading. It’s all about making the transition to multiplicity and complexity. Not one fixed source of in-formation, but many wellsprings for potential trans-formation.

        And everyone, keep an eye out for Colin here. Much more wisdom and insight to come, I’m sure!

        Cheers.

        Posted by Paul Freedman | October 27, 2011, 10:45 pm
    • Hi Mindy,

      Thanks for your comment. I am not wanting to take a position of defending Khan Academy. There are certain aspects that I find off-putting, yet in certain other ways I see some exciting potential (see the many comments above.) But one thing I’m pretty sure doesn’t deserve or need any of our defense are the textbooks that on-line learning models could potentially threaten. The unbelievable funds that go into commodifying and sanctifying a fixed body of knowledge as is embodied in these textbooks is extremely disturbing. Textbook companies and their parent corporations own “knowledge.” They package it and distribute it. They produce test-prep materials. Then they test for it. They remediate the “struggling” students. And at every turn rake in incredible profits. Every couple of years, in every subject, at every grade level, new materials must be purchased by thousands of Districts to the tunes of millions and millions and millions of dollars, all to serve a cold, dead, lifeless mechanistic paradigm of fragmentation and alienation in the cloak of glossy graphics and eye-catching colors between these cardboard covers.

      I hadn’t really thought about it but if Sal Khan can take down McGraw Hill with a few videos, then more power to him!

      A lot has been written about this, of course. But if you want a place to start, check out John Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction.

      As for other books, I don’t really see the threat that Khan poses.

      Paul

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 27, 2011, 10:36 pm
      • I’m afraid I completely misrepresented myself. (Serves me right for commenting so late at night after a long day.) I am the opposite of a textbook fan, and I feel the same way about homework. My last comment, about videos replacing books, was a spontaneous (and not very serious) attempt to compare what Khan says his videos do with what books have long done: both books and videos can be “paused,” experienced at one’s own pace, and both contain another voice (or voices) *intended* to aid conceptual understanding. (Intention and whether it ultimately gives way to other things could be another discussion.) To me, his videos don’t seem particularly innovative; they seem like a more high-tech version of what has been done. I do like the idea of finding many more ways for school kids to learn at their own pace and have more privacy. I wonder, though, about relying on videos to do it. Can’t we think of better alternatives to traditional classroom lecturing than videos of lectures? (I’m thinking of Michael Becker, a 6th grade science teacher at Hood River Middle School, whose class learns concepts entirely through various permaculture projects.) Also, I am *all* for taking down textbook manufactures (and am a Gatto fan), but are there not a lot of useful, engaging books outside the world of textbooks?

        Posted by mindyfitch | October 28, 2011, 1:29 pm
    • (By “books” I am NOT talking about textbooks. Textbooks aren’t real books, after all. :) )

      Posted by mindyfitch | October 28, 2011, 1:30 pm
      • Okay, sorry, I don’t seem to have gotten the hang of commenting yet. This parenthetical comment was supposed to be attached to my original comment above. I’ll leave it at that.

        Posted by mindyfitch | October 28, 2011, 1:32 pm
        • Thanks Mindy,

          I’m with you! Let’s reach towards emphasizing project-based learning and meaningful work with kids – bodies, heads and hearts. Like I said, I am not necessarily advocating Khan. In my school, we actually have a tech-free environment through grade 6.

          Are you in Hood River? I’m good friends with a couple of good friends of Michael (haven’t met him yet, but have heard amazing stories of his transformative work. I have done a fair bit of permaculture work with kids up here on Orcas Island, WA and in partnership with the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead.

          Thanks for taking the time to dialogue and to clarify where you’re at.

          Posted by Paul Freedman | October 28, 2011, 2:14 pm
  13. Paul, thanks so much for your reply. Tech-free through grade six sounds right on to me. I should add that the kids I’m around a lot (including my own) range in age from one to five, and my husband teaches 4th and 5th graders, so I tend to think about younger children during discussions like this one. Khan’s videos might be perfectly suited for certain situations with older kids. I do worry about media saturation for people of all ages, however, including older kids and adults.

    I am extremely jealous of your location on beloved Orcas Island, home to my childhood summer camp, and your proximity to the Bullock Bros. Homestead. Those guys are superstars. Speaking of video, I have sent this charmingly low-tech video about the Bullocks to lots of folks recently as an illustration of the immense bodies-heads-heart involved in permaculture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW7LcNAYBWg. (Notice that one of them says at the start that they share a dislike of controlled environments like school.) In the spare few minutes I have each day once my kids are asleep, I am also working on my very first post for Cooperative Catalyst on the subject of permaculture design as a model for education reform.

    I’m in Portland, not Hood River, but my husband, Jason, who teaches in Estacada, has visited Michael’s school and spoken with him at Tryon Community Farm during a Permaculture Design Course. Michael also spoke recently at the NW Permaculture Convergence, which our whole family attended in St. Helens, OR. A ton of folks there found his words and experiences inspiring, and he generated a lot of discussion.

    Posted by mindyfitch | October 28, 2011, 2:41 pm

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