Salman Khan was a brainy MIT graduate and a highly paid hedge fund analyst in 2004 when he decided to help his 12-year-old cousin Nadia with some areas of math she was struggling with. He became fascinated with teaching and, over the next four years, he developed hundreds of Youtube video tutorials on math and science, as well as work problems and tracking software to go with them. Shortly after he quit his day job in 2008, Khan received funding from Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and was well on his way to educating millions of people around the world.
In this book he explains what he has learned about education over the past eight years operating his Khan Academy, although he first spends over half the book discussing the things he doesn’t like about traditional education. His criticisms include the Balkanization of subject areas, the passivity of the lecture method, the inability of tests to identify creative thinkers, the lack of “mastery” learning, and the emphasis on quantity instead of quality in homework, as well as many other criticisms.
Khan then relates how his series of videos were developed and how successful they have been in various summer camps and in pilot projects such as the Los Altos School District in California. He does not go so far as to suggest that his videos can take the place of classroom teaching, rather that they can be an invaluable supplement in enriching and customizing the teaching of math and science to the individual needs of students. He concludes by arguing that his videos could potentially have the greatest impact in Third World nations that need a cost-effective way to improve their public education systems, and where a shortage of quality teachers is a real problem.
Along the way he also touches on many improvements that could be made to public education that are only tangentially related to his Khan Academy methods, in areas such as homework, grades, mixed age classrooms, and year-round schools.
Everyone in public education should be aware of what the Khan Academy has to offer their students. In addition, I think you will find Salman Khan’s thoughts on education to be refreshing and provocative, but not bombastic.
– Reviewed by Bob Sibert