You Khan learn more about me here

I expect a few folks will stop by this blog after reading my recent critique (together with Michael Paul Goldenberg) of Khan Academy. That critique was based on Sal Khan’s lack of knowledge of common student misconceptions, as evidenced in his videos. It was also based on the fact that he seems not to care.

Forthwith, some more reading on the topic, Teachers need to know about their students’ ideas.

Read and enjoy.

And feel free to argue with me (read the comments-you’ll see that you’re not the first!)

But before you do, please read my post on ground rules. I adhered to these in my Washington Post piece. You need to adhere to them here. It’s how we’ll learn together.

Division of fractions. (Contrast with Khan’s treatment of the matter. Of course our work has different audiences; but I argue that his teaching ought to reflect having though about the issues I wrote about. Does it? Discuss.)

• Ways to think about the sum of the angle measures of a polygon. (Again, contrast with Khan’s treatment.)

• Some thoughts on designing tasks from which students can learn.

• More observations about concepts underlying decimals.

• Problem-solving and understanding; notes on their relative importance in teacher preparation.

• A post in which I predicted my own students’ struggles-only partially correctly-and discussed with commenters afterwards.

• A high-concept, mathematically sophisticated way of saying Holy crap! I get why my students struggle with logarithms!

You might also enjoy my ongoing series on Talking Math with Your Kids.

A common theme in critiquing Khan’s critics is to ask, “Why don’t you go ahead and make your own videos?”

This has some merit. But it’s not the fact that Khan’s making videos that I find troublesome. A more apt retort would be, “Why don’t you go ahead and make your own multi-million dollar website?” The answer to that should be obvious.

For me, on the video front, I have. I am still pretty open-minded and curious about what video can do well. I think it can provoke (examples here, here and here). And I think it can provide decent explanations and demonstrations. I do not think it can be the primary instructional medium for a quality math course. And yet, I am ready to be persuaded.

Finally, I noticed that Karim Kai took some heat for a perceived (but fully disclosed) conflict of interest, in that he founded Mathalicious. Concerns in his case are unwarranted in my view. But be that as it may, I want to make clear that while I have written for Connected Mathematics, I have zero financial interest in the venture and my formal relationship with the project has ended. I neither speak for, nor profit from Connected Mathematics.

11 responses to “You Khan learn more about me here

  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    Strange as it may seem, I’m inclined to agree with you, Christopher. :^)

    And anyone who wants me to disclose the last 10 years of my tax records should note that I’ll do so as soon as I’m nominated for elected office and choose to run. But I can say with complete confidence that I have no financial or other conflicts of interest in critiquing Khan, Mathalicious, or anyone or anything else I see fit to take on. If I were in math education for the money, I would have been locked up long ago.

  2. I think his high school stuff is much better than his early math stuff. I have a hard time seeing any teacher use Khan Academy’s videos for anything below a 6th grade classroom.

  3. That may be, Michael. They’re still studying comparing decimals at sixth grade, though. If he’s gonna have basic math stuff up, I think it ought to be decent.

  4. I agree. Hardly suprising. (full disclosure: I’m one of Christopher’s former students)

    Had I already sent this?
    Math Teachers giving Kahn the MST3K-treatment leading to a contest where other teachers challenge each other to do the same.
    Not to be bashing Kahn… (though there is a hint of private guilty pleasure in their tone now and then) but really to facilitate better instruction on his site.

    For what it’s worth, it seems that Kahn is genuinely willing to incorporate thoughtful advice… and his goals really are noble ones. World-class education for anyone? Great.
    But if you’re not an expert yourself… why not take advantage of the tools at your disposal to offer the best instruction available? The internet can put a genius on any give topic in anyone’s pocket instantly. Why not start with a blue-ribbon panel of experts, and write your scripts from there?

    The whole “don’t want to be tied down to legacy/dogma” argument always makes me think of open mic night poetry twenty-somethings, and people who fake it on musical instruments… Learn the rules, master your craft… THEN show us how “out of the box” you can be.
    The Dot and the Line.

  5. Christopher, Kahn might not offer the highest quality mathematics education available but it does offer the most available mathematics education. That is, it reaches more people because it doesn’t carry a price tag with it. Traditional universities rely upon prestige to pay the bills, and Kahn is not bound to this obligation. This is a current problem with online education. In the university setting, privilege and wealth determine the control of information, however online this is not the case. This leads to a lot of noise, but as a community is created around Kahn, that noise can be cleaned up with help by people like you. I applaud your critique, but I caution you not to make the argument against online education in general, and instead use your energy to improve the quality of online education.

    • I applaud your critique, but I caution you not to make the argument against online education in general, and instead use your energy to improve the quality of online education.

      I have gotten this sort of comment several times now, where my concerns about a specific thing are taken to be a sign that I oppose some larger construct. Don’t worry about this, folks. I understand that “the cheese in my refrigerator is moldy” should not be allowed to expand into a generalized critique of the freshness of dairy products.

      My claim really is that Sal Khan’s videos are crummy because he lacks PCK. They would probably be less crummy if he knew more. End of claim.

      About online education more broadly, I have a ton of critical questions. But I don’t know enough yet to make claims there. I think of my work on and my TED-Ed video ought to count as evidence of my open mind there. Links are above. Let me kow what you think.

  6. I deleted a comment and tried to email the commenter (it was a address). The email address the commenter left was no good. Here is the reply I attempted to email. It begins with a quotation that I believe is copied from the comments on the Washington Post piece.

    – “(and Khan as a masterful teacher: he’s more like Bozo the Clown, in fact, bumbling his way to whatever pops out of his mouth, then waiting for real teachers to point out how bad his work is so that he can get someone else to fix it, possibly by stealing from his betters, which I’m increasingly starting to suspect is how any decent lessons ever make it onto the KA site)”.

    Those are not my words. They do sound an awful lot like words my co-author might write. But they are not mine. I agree that this sort of thing isn’t useful and it was a precondition of our writing together that the tone of our piece be more measured. I hope that, in looking over the piece again, you’ll see that it is to my credit that none of that sort of thing appears there.

    I am going to delete your comment, not because I disagree with it, but because you’ve got the wrong guy.

    You are totally right that the words you quote violate the ground rules for the discourse I hope to encourage on my blog.

    • That passage is taken from your blog. It’s the first comment under “The Teaching Gap”.

      • Right you are, Jason. Nice catch. I have edited the comment to retain the point it was making without the name calling. Thanks.

  7. My take is that Khan seems to follow the same “script” as Bill Gates, which accounts for the former’s admiration. You can read my comparison at

  8. Pingback: Pattern matching and its role in learning mathematics | Overthinking my teaching

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