Meet the new education– Same as the old education

This week’s TIME magazine reported on the Khan Academy.  Irony drips from Salman Khan’s claim to being an education outsider (page 41):

I think there’s an advantage to being an outsider–I am not colored by the dogma of the Establishment.


Cut the Crap

Dear Salman:

You ARE the Establishment.

Your Academy is like every other education improvement idea that defines “education” as learning random knowledge and skills.

Furthermore, your academy is favored by the new education Establishment — philanthropists who believe education can be improved with new technologies and methods, instead of by defining the educated person in a useful, inspiring way. Ann Doerr, Bill Gates, Google, and other technology and entertainment entrepreneurs have donated millions to your Academy. But you can’t see that this is the new Establishment because, as you proudly admit, you know nothing of public education’s history, sociology or politics.

So I should also explain to you that school reformers over the last 100 years have tried to accomplish the following three goals at the same time: (1) getting motivated, high scoring students to achieve at high levels at reduced costs, (2) getting unmotivated, low scoring  students to achieve at higher levels without increasing costs, and (3) convincing state and district policy makers to equalize educational opportunity.

I thank you for your success with number 1. I am sure your lessons are great for motivated students. I imagine flipped classrooms maintain high test scores for motivated students, possibly at reduced costs.

From my high school teaching days, however, I know that motivated students don’t need a “flipped” classroom, or any other reforms, to be successful.  They are successful in almost any classroom because they are developing the imagination, strong character, courage, and humility needed to gain deep understandings.

Our greatest needs have always been numbers 2 and 3 — to engage unmotivated students without increasing costs (e.g., without having smaller classes), and to provide equal educational opportunity.  Number 2 is the failure of educators, Number 3 is the failure of state legislators and local school boards; who, like you, are ignorant of the history, sociology, and politics of American education. Like them, your Academy and the new education Establishment fail to address these second and third concerns.

Saying you are “not colored by the dogma of the Establishment” is ironic, when your ideas come from the Establishment, and they are the same as the Establishment’s.



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