5 Notes

Sal Khan and the myth of “higher value” teaching modes

Last night 60 Minutes profiled Khan Academy. Sanjay Gupta interviewed founder Sal Khan: 

Khan: I’ve seen some subset of teachers who say, “Oh, well, what is this video thing? You know, live human interaction is important.” And the reason why that bothers me a little bit is that I know that’s exactly what we’re saying. In fact, we exactly agree with you. That what we’re trying to do is take the passivity out of the classroom. So that you, as a teacher, will have more flexibility.

Gupta: Does it minimize the role of the teacher? Does it make it less impactful?

Khan: No, I think it’s the exact opposite. We kind of view teachers playing the role of more like a coach or a mentor. Which, once again, I personally believe is a much higher valued thing than a lecturer.

Noooooo! I don’t know whether Khan believes this or whether he’s saying it to defend against fears that Khan Academy threatens teachers and their jobs. But there should be nothing “lower value” about being a lecturer—if that is where you excel as a teacher. We should aspire to create an educational system that deploys talent in ways that maximize each teacher’s strengths. If you’re amazing with small groups of students, then lead tutorials! If TED is knocking at your door, then lecture! If you have a knack for facilitating discussion, then lead a writing workshop! We need inspiring teachers who care deeply about their students and their students’ performance in ALL of these realms. 

I’ve benefited throughout my life from teachers of all stripes and gifts. I’ll never forget them, and I would never ask the workshop leaders to swap places with the lecturers. Each is appropriate in its own context. 

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