Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

w/r/t Khan Academy: Teachers must put students first.

So I was on my Google Reader earlier today, when I came across this item on CATO@Liberty (HT: Radley Balko), which referenced a Wired article about Khan Academy. For those who are unfamiliar, Khan Academy is a website that features a huge number of video-podcast-style lessons about all manner of academic topics, including (but certainly not limited to) Mathematics and Science. In the article, Ben Kamens, programmer for Khan Institute, claims to have spoken with teachers who are excited about the idea of Khan Academy, but are concerned that it will cause students to become “too advanced.” Let’s set aside the possibility that this is made up. Let’s just suppose it’s true.

This is clearly a case of teachers not putting their students first. Something is severely wrong with a teacher that believes it’s appropriate for an effective learning tool to be modified to be less effective in helping students to learn. It’s even more objectionable that a teacher would make a case that this sort of prevention in academic development would be beneficial to the student. Indeed I can understand possible arguments about social development and peer relations, but until teachers are willing to develop legitimate curricula for students’ social development, I’m unwilling to entertain the idea that students’ social well-being could somehow be promoted by making sure distinguishing academic achievement is suppressed.

In the high school where I teach, students aren’t prevented from moving forward at their own pace. Courses within discipline are available to students independent of the number of years they’ve been in school. Instead (and I suspect this is the case in most high schools), students are placed into the courses that are appropriate for the demonstration of understanding they’ve already exhibited. Simply put, if a student is capable of learning Trigonometry (and has familiarity with the requisite mathematics to do so), he or she can enroll in the course.

This approach is also the case at almost every university of which I am aware. A student’s eligibility for new material is largely based on his or her prerequisite achievement. Of course, the difference in the university is that the achievement mostly has to be documented, so learning outside the classroom isn’t as easily translated into a demonstration of readiness such as a transcript might be. Nevertheless, these barriers aside, the question is, “Is the student capable?”

An educational system which is incapable or unwilling (the two are often related) to accommodate students who are learning outside the classroom is totally unacceptable. While there is necessarily a corporate approach to the education of large numbers of students, this corporate approach needn’t actively prevent students from moving at their own pace. It’s a lack of innovation and imagination that would cause a teacher not to embrace a resource like Khan Academy.*

*Of course, this all assumes Khan does what we suppose it does. No comment on that yet.