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The Dangerous Mr. Khan (nas.org)
311 points by cwan on June 8, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 246 comments

Hi Everyone,

This is Sal here. I wanted to respond directly on the author's page, but they seem to be having a problem taking comments.

The reason why I make history videos is that many people I know (many of whom are quite educated) don't even have a basic scaffold of world events in their minds (or the potential causality between events). Most American high school and college students would find it difficult to give even a summary of the Vietnam War or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of these people have sat through years of traditional history classes (taught through state-mandated books by "experts"). Even more worrying is many experts who have taken one side or another of a historical issue and view their viewpoints as facts (this is the tone of most history books).

If the author really watched my videos, he would see that I start most of them telling the listener to be skeptical of anything I tell them or anyone tells them; that no matter how footnoted something is, in the end it is dependent on people's accounts--the people who weren't killed--which are subject to bias (no matter how well-intentioned). Very few history books or professors do this. If anything, they create a false sense of certainty.

As for the "one voice" issue, I don't see how a guy making digestible videos that inform and encourage skepticism (on YouTube where anyone else can do the same) are more dangerous than state-mandated text books. I don't see how lectures that are open for the world to scrutinize (and comment about on YouTube and our site) are more dangerous than a lone teacher or professor who can say whatever they like to their classrooms with no one there to correct or dispute them.

Finally, there is nothing I would like to see more than other teachers/professors/experts adding their voice to the mix. Rather than wasting energy commenting on other people's work with pseudo-intellectual babble, why don't they produce their own videos and post them on YouTube? If someone can produce 20 videos that seem decent and want to do more as part of the Khan Academy, we'll point our audience at them. If our students respond, we'll figure out a way that they can potentially make it a career.

regards, Sal

The most valuable thing you do is provide a basis for intuition in the topics you teach. Getting people to understand the "big picture" early on actually increases the appetite for curiosity, makes topics less intimidating and easier to learn.

I don't need all the facts, but I do need an understanding of why certain historical events (or any other topic) are important. Having that latticework in my mind allows me to kickstart learning the details, and synthesizing all that information.

Criticism of various learning models will always be around. Its important to listen to it, but at the same time, these ideas are coming straight out of people's heads - about what they "think" is a better approach. On the other hand, Khan Academy's success is a direct function of its wide-spread adoption. If it didn't work as well as, if not better than, what people learn in a classroom, people simply wouldn't watch. Not only that, I'm sure feedback (positive and negative) from actual users is much more useful than from someone ingrained in the old model (and most likely views himself as teacher only, and not a learner).

I'm an avid user of the site and I see this all the time: Sal- "In the last video, I seemed to have confused people about so and so.. let me clarify that now." The videos and site are developing iteratively, and they have data to understand what people need/having trouble with.

Please continue to teach in this manner. Anyone who grew into, and succeeded in an academic environment (as virtually all professors have) will not see how transformative KA is for people who do not learn that way.

Sal, You wrote > Rather than wasting energy commenting on other people's work with pseudo-intellectual babble, why don't they produce their own videos and post them on YouTube? >

Precisely! One of the things that appeals to me about your education model is its democracy. Anyone who wants to learn and commit the time for it is free and welcome to it.

The Education Profession has managed to create a number of gates and gatekeepers in an apparent attempt to control access to education and to control whom learns what. That model was somewhat shaken when the printing press was invented and then a little more with digital media and the internet. It maintains control through the accreditation business and the granting of degrees.

My kids have taken some online college courses and it appears that few traditional universities really understand how the make the most of online media, because those courses were so poorly conceived and executed. The Khan Academy is a stark and shining contrast to those.

A college degree remains, as the equivalent of yesteryear's high school diploma, the ticket to getting employed in many of the better jobs. It is my hope that someday there will be an open, free (or extremely low cost), accredited college degree program available to everyone who has access to internet!

I think it is awesome that a guy like Sal is the "rock star" of the future.

Thank you Sal for great videos! You are inspiring me to study maths.

I have a Ba in history and agree with the criticism raised in the article, however I also think it is a problem that many people dont even have a basic scaffold of world events.

History is about making choices, what to say and what not to say, and the way to say it, it is not merely about being familiar with major world events. What is a major world event? Lets go with WW2 , then when you dig into WW2, what would you say is a major event? Fall of France, D-Day, Fall of Yugoslavia, or Stalingrad? Whatever you choose you exclude another event, your choices influences the further storytelling. You have to make choices.

The solution for this problem is very difficult, since you have to begin somewhere in your story-telling, and even when choosing where to begin you take a side. And that side is with you for the rest of the story telling.

History is not merely about events it is also about connecting dots, you can begin by choosing any event and really digging into it until you begin to see the wider picture. Going the other way around is far more difficult, when you attempt to give an overview of the wider picture. You get exactly what you would if you picked 2m wide brushes to draw on a wall.

My suggestion instead is to pick really small pencils and draw thinner lines, introduce the students to any event in world history and work out from there. Only then the students could enjoy seeing (and make themselves) the wider connections.

A teacher in a classroom faces the same problems as you (and more, imagine 20 teenagers), so dont worry about it. :)

I try to do both. The way my brain works, I need to see where something fits into the bigger picture (both in time and space) before I can engage in the nuance. The beauty of this form-factor is that we can keep adding more videos to add more color and context since we aren't limited by the time of the classroom or state-mandated curricula.

I think the breadth first approach is very important, it allows you to see the overall structure and focus your attention on what your interested in. Much like a levels of detail on a map - first you need to know the big geography - where are the oceans/land, or in our case what are the most important events/people/locations/traditions, and then we can zoom until eventually we can see the details.

I'd love to help you out but my voice is squely :)


Its interesting to see your reaction to the criticism, especially that of being defensive (understandable first reaction). But if you look at the article objectively there are a lot of opportunities it creates for Khan Academy to be even more impactful than what it is today.

You are certainly a great teacher, orator and have the understanding of math and finance. However, one person cannot be good at grasping, understanding and teaching ALL subjects. Thats where you have an opportunity to enlist the best the the brightest teachers from US to create videos for you on subjects they are most passionate about. Why not create a video contest to identify in a democratic way who are these top teachers??

Also, just to answer your point about a teacher's ability to put 20 video online rather than writing criticism. The thing is that you have already gained a lot of fame and respect for your work and its a very difficult thing to do. Its unreasonable to expect a teacher to gain the same level of viewership now like you have. Thats why I say that take the interest that you have developed around you to uplift other teachers to bring up education as a 'whole'.

Otherwise, Kahn Academy will remain a closet work... Just my two cents...

Cheers Ritu

Maybe Khan is trying to appeal to a global crowd greater than subjective US politics we call "history". Do you realize how much history has happened since the beginning of man? And how much of that is completely useless to know? Paraphrasing is most appropriate, but not to the liking of this academic with a blog. He helped start Wikipedia, he's not a complete nobody.

He seems to think you're on the verge of becoming the only educator on the planet, which is nonsense. He also doesn't discern between what you teach, and how you teach. YouTube accounts are free; He can get one.

Thanks for doing what you do. I think you're exploring what will become a incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle, especially for those without the advantages of a western public school system.

Hi Sal,

I'm amazed at the breadth of subjects that you cover in your videos. Do you have to undertake a lot of research before covering a subject, particularly in math and science? Thanks for helping me get through Linear Algebra.

Hi Sal, I have started to use Khan Academy this year and it has helped me to pass all my college math classes. I haven't seen your history videos, but it seems to me that Clemens thinks that your videos are the only resource we use to study the various topics your cover. That's like saying I only watch your math videos, but I'll never open my text book to do practice problems on differential equations.In the same respect if I were to watch your history videos I would be looking for a timeline and overview to give myself structure for what I should study and look at in more depth.

Thank you for all your hard work, we all appreciate it.



The real issue I come out with from that article is not the content of your courses but the danger of potentially having one uniform history curriculum for the whole world. You can still be the most unbiased and thorough teacher and this will still remain a real issue. The more subjective a subject, the more different ways it must be taught.

Unfortunately, time and attention are scarce. The best you can do is to impart the understanding that all historical accounts are biased, and balance that bias by encouraging your students to research opposite points of view on their own time.

I was taught both Haitian History from Haiti and from France almost at the same time when I was in school (I was in a French distance learning program in Haiti). The Haitian account was glorifying its heroes and the French account was attenuating the magnitude of the first successful Black revolution. I really appreciated your account of the Haitian revolution since your personal bias was much less impregnated in your video.

Don't stop doing what you are passionate about.

Are you starting to use videos from other people? I'd love to see 3rd party content on the site provided it scored well with both students(attention) and teachers(content).

We're trying our best right now to find potentially interesting instructors. There are 2 or 3 people who might be adding content in the near future. YouTube and TeacherTube (and other sites) already exist for anyone to post a lecture. We think our value is in providing a handful of lecturers that really resonate with students. If I had to guess, we'll have 10-20 lecturers in English within the next 5 years.

Try to be careful with this. I think one of the reasons why Khan Academy is so great is because people know you are creating the videos. We know what to expect before watching a video. I think there is also a sense of a personal connection, people feel comfortable with you.

Of course I hope for the best, and expanding seems reasonable at this time.

If the author really watched my videos, he would see that I start most of them telling the listener to be skeptical of anything I tell them or anyone tells them; that no matter how footnoted something is, in the end it is dependent on people's accounts--the people who weren't killed--which are subject to bias (no matter how well-intentioned). Very few history books or professors do this. If anything, they create a false sense of certainty.

Thank you for emphasizing this. It seems that some have forgotten that history is written by the victors.

Sal, I appreciate your response. You make videos that try to be helpful. Many have found them very helpful. Up until now, nobody forces people to use them so I am often puzzled by the opposition you face from some. I am a chemistry professor in a rural Western US state - I know these kinds of instructional supplements can be very helpful to many students in my state - where legislative decisions limit a school district's ability to hire and retain qualified science teachers. I've been making videos about chemistry for many years but I didn't put them on Youtube - you did, and that's what makes your efforts valuable. Congratulations!

I have many more than 20 videos made - but I find my students use them more frequently when they are created to coach them through specific problems. They use them as often as they visit me in office hours. I've also just completed a series of 35 videos for a textbook publisher that walk first year college students through very difficult chemistry problems that use multiple concepts. These are not short single topic videos so we will see how useful they are in practice. They are meant to help a chemistry student learn to think like a chemist and the jury is out as to whether that can be taught by video.

I would be happy to talk about helping with your effort in science, specifically in chemistry. I am sure there is much to be done and surprisingly, not that many working to create more content using this medium. A mix that can also provide real-time Q & A is particularly interesting. I can be reached at fletcher at uidaho dot edu. Here is an example of the kind of vid that students use to help them solve a specific problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49k88Alfh88


The only thing novel about Khan Academy is accessibility. Its the same old teacher-centered lectures we've endured for the past hundred years, with a somewhat more charismatic instructor.

Most of the criticism I've seen of your work isn't "pseudo-intellectual babble," its merely pointing out what I've stated above, and that it isn't in line with what research tells us about how students learn. Your challenge for your critics to produce their own videos misses the point entirely.

I happen to think your videos are fine overall, and while I find some specific science content oversimplified and focus too much on mechanics rather than conceptual understanding, it serves very well for student review. For learning new content, however, I happen to believe that there is a better way.

Please view the video below:

Effectiveness of Science Videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVtCO84MDj8

While you're there, consider his videos a part of your final challenge. http://www.youtube.com/user/1veritasium

I am very interested in your thoughts about his approach to instructional videos.

This "Effectiveness of Science Videos" video that you refer to doesn't even use Khan Academy videos. Also, don't you think it is ironic to use video to explain that videos can't explain things?

You're entitled to your opinions. Our #1 priority is the millions of students who use our content and testify that it is measurably helping them. And to be clear, they aren't deluding themselves--read our comments and you'll see student after student using our content to rock any assessment thrown at them. The data we're seeing in pilot classrooms is showing students performing several grade levels ahead. We're seeing remedial students using Khan Academy software leap frogging non-remedial students. Very savvy school districts (with super demanding parents) that understand results are rolling us out on a district-wide basis.

As for conceptual understanding, this is what the Khan Academy is all about. We have multiple videos on proofs and conceptual understanding that are never touched on in most classrooms. I won't make a lesson unless I can explain the why and/or why it is intuitive.

As for your "research", what is it tangibly doing for students? Rather than talk, we think we should build, learn and iterate.

I never said that you "can't explain things" with video. I said that your videos work very well for review. The medium has changed, but you're doing the same thing that has always been done. If the goal is to get past a test or quiz, then I'm sure students love it. But will they understand it in a month? Two months? A year? They won't come back to leave those comments on youtube.

I simply ask you to watch the video, and respond to it. I think it makes valid points, and it agrees with the research I've read on how students learn (Available for free here: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10126).

If you truly want to build, and learn (which I certainly want to), don't flippantly dismiss critiques. Just because all forms of effective teaching don't go viral on YouTube doesn't mean that they're invalid.

I think you're missing the point. Sal Khan isn't trying to replace all traditional forms of learning. He's not saying that his methodology is perfect and should be the first options. So picking apart his practices based on idealistic principles is really irrelevant.

I think all this criticism just further reiterates how amazing Khan Academy is. Truth is that their will never be an educational system that everyone thinks is perfect. We are all too unique and absorb information in different ways. The fact that people are talking about Khan Academy at this global scale is amazing and only further amplifies it's importance, last time I checked open source education doesn't generate too much press. So instead of seeking perfection, which is unattainable, we should focus more on actually doing the littles things to make knowledge more widespread.

To that end Khan Academy has no comparable peers. Critics can talk all they want about learning theory and this and that, but fact is that Khan Academy is really helpful to a lot of people.

If you think you see a flaw in Sal's approach and can do better, than just do it and we'll see if people like it. You're into education theory, great. Keep reading and writing about education. Sal Khan is into doing, into helping people learn so that they can improve their own lives. Kindly get out of his way.

The "Effectiveness of Science Videos" video does not imply that the proposed form of educational videos help students retain information past taking a test. The study provided simply states that students did better on the test after watching the "misconception first" video format than the traditional science video format.

> Effectiveness of Science Videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVtCO84MDj8

The biggest flaw in the "Effectiveness of Science" (EoS) video is that it criticizes khanacademy videos by showing that vastly inferior videos don't work. Khan videos are good because they make it easy to think: there are no distractions, just a blackboard and an intelligent voice "in your head" guiding you through the problem domain. In the EoS video, the failing videos try to teach physics by featuring the face of a talking girl with a guy juggling in the background. He might as well give his subjects a physics book and turn them loose in a sports bar to study while following NCAA basketball. Neither method is a good one for learning physics. What's sad is that the maker of the EoS video is not just some crank on the internet, but apparently a newly minted PhD in education who will likely end up teaching teachers or running a school system and it's obvious that despite his vast "education" this guy has no clue how to recognize good teaching.

The point of the EOS video is that trying to make it "easy to think" results in students retaining prior misconceptions, and therefore thinking they have learned when they actually haven't. Learning is hard.

I have seen some of Khan's physics videos. I can tell you from years in the classroom, students exposed to those videos as an initial learning experience will change absolutely none of their misconceptions. None. Not one, no learning, just a warm feeling of thinking that they agree with what's been said (even though they don't agree with it at all).

Now can a student who has already addressed her misconceptions (in a classroom, by doing experiments, then discussing, arguing, trying to predict new situations and then trying those situations) gain some advantage by using the videos as review? Perhaps so, and I wouldn't fault a student for making this part of her review. It's more likely my students would end up gleefully eviscerating the video.

Sal Khan represents not just one curriculum, but a new way to thinking about education: teaching basic principles behind the scenes and bringing student participation/collaboration to the fore.

We created ShowMeApp.com exactly for this reason - so that any teacher can easily create these kinds of videos through the iPad and share them online.

Here's a guy who's done a ton of awesome Chemistry lessons: http://www.showmeapp.com/jr_orinion

We're huge fans what Sal is doing and would love to see more teachers embrace his approach.

We're still in beta, but I'd love to hear any feedback on the site and the app.

>The reason why I make history videos is that many people I know (many of whom are quite educated) don't even have a basic scaffold of world events in their minds (or the potential causality between events

I think this problem can be generalized. There's a predisposition for lopsided development across intelligence domains. Like the cliche nerd that has the social intelligence of a rock and viceversa. Modern society re-enforces this tendency by rewarding people to specialize into increasingly narrower intelligence domains. This sort of tunnel vision bias just isn't sustainable in a modern democracy.

Here are some videos of a teacher trying to implement research based teaching. Is it entertaining? No. Are student being encouraged to think? yes.

Using number of site visits to denote good teaching is very problematic. You might consider catching up on the work of the late Neil Postman for more on this.


>Most American high school and college students would find it difficult to give even a summary of the Vietnam War or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That is a broad assertion on your part and one that I have yet to find true; esp. after meeting many former high schoolers in my college History classes.

just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work Sal

> [most people] don't even have a basic scaffold of world events in their minds

You're absolutely right. Unfortunately, many other people do have a scaffold, a derelict one at best, provided to them through their politically tainted education and validated by their social systems.

I respect that at least you're making an attempt to enable people to stimulate their interests and seek out a more detailed education on those topics.

The comments thus far show exactly what is wrong with HN. HN has become an echo chamber where we all love certain people/companies/ideas and immediately dismiss any counter viewpoint.

Instead of immediately discrediting the linked article because they're "haters" or "threatened", try reading it and understanding their point of view. I love Khan's work and what he's doing, but at the same time the article raises some valid points. You learn a lot more by examining both sides of a story than being a fanboi.

I read it and normally consider myself pretty open minded. But then you read things like this.

"Here Mr. Khan stands exposed as possessing a historical perspective steeped in academia’s standard issue, postmodern, left-leaning narrative of cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and moral equivalence. "

And in my mind the author is exposed.

I am hoping that my son grows up being taught by postmodernist that don't present history as fact but as I believe it is – a perspective.

I would rather that my son grasp a few things about history and don't get the exact dates or details right. That he understands what history is as much as he knows what went into it.

So in my mind the valid points you talk about are nothing but the authors own idea about mainly his own field which is history. In other words his own interpretation – how ironic.

I agree that Kahn probably shouldn't be teaching history and I am sure with time that will be changed. But to claim that he is dangerous is simply missing the grander scheme of things.

We're allowed to possess opinions and positions that are controversial. It's not illegal to have point of view that challenges the mainstream.

From my POV, the Khan Academy view of history described here is utter bunk and doesn't really give a good historical perspective. I'm shocked, shocked to hear that K-12 history is garbage!

K-12 history curriculum has always been garbage pushing somebody's agenda.

Until the 80's, high school history in the US was all about the "American Pageant", complete with a carefully crafted timeline of achievement and wonderfulness describing how wonderful the US was. You start out making pilgrim hats in second grade and learning about how the friendly indians taught the pilgrims to put dead fish around corn as a fertilizer, and wrapped up talking about how great WW2 was. (Usually we ran out of time for Korea and Vietnam when I was in school)

From the 70's onward, "revisionists" changed the curriculum a bit to demonstrate that people other than white folks existed. For me, that meant in the winter you spent less time covering the gilded age and watched "Shaka Zulu" or "Roots" instead and in the Spring you learned about the civil rights movement. I grew up in New York City, so we were also mandated to learn about the potato famine and the triangle shirtwaist fire.

AP History was an eye-opener to me. You actually had an opportunity to leave the drivel behind and learn about something in depth from primary and secondary sources. (In my case, the American Revolution)

All attempts to write about history is pushing someone's agenda.

I bear no illusions that history writing is agenda free. But the stories of the white where no less relevant or important, they just needed to be mixed with other perspectives.

And that is to me what history is. Perspective. There are no right or wrong perspectives. There are simply perspectives trying to describe to the best of their vantage point.

> And that is to me what history is. Perspective. There are no right or wrong perspectives. There are simply perspectives trying to describe to the best of their vantage point.

This sort of claim is vulnerable to a popular philosophical dilemma: the more plausibly you interpret it, the less interesting it is; the more interesting an interpretation you give it, the less plausible it seems. (The tl;dr version of this argument is "vacuous or false".)

Here's a plausible interpretation of what you might mean: everyone puts their own spin on things, and no view of history is completely unbiased. This is very likely to be true, but it's also not very interesting. Everyone is likely to agree with it.

Here's a radical and interesting interpretation of what you might mean: all historical statements are completely perspectival; no perspective is more valid or more likely to be true than another; there is no way to choose among perspectives; all perspectives are equally valid. Now that's a bold, interesting claim. It's also preposterous.

Consider: two people arguing blame about WWI. One person laying all the blame on Germany. The other laying quite a lot of the blame on France. Well and good. Now a third enters. He lays all the blame for WWI (and the Great Depression to boot) on the Alpha Centaurions who (secretly) invaded our planet in 1912. These are all perspectives. Are they really equally valid? Are we unable to choose between them? Be careful how you answer: if you say, "Well facts are facts, but when I say 'history' I mean interpretations of those facts only..." That will only push your problems one step back. Are even all interpretations equally valid? Do you really believe that?

If I had to guess, you're aiming for the radical end (based on how you defended your original post), but I'm not really sure. There's a lot of room between these two poles. Would you care to elaborate your view?

I think the quote you refer to speaks for itself.

You can then choose to make it absurd by including Alpha Centaurions. And then sure it's vulnerable.

But then shouldn't you first find someone who would actually claim that and then perhaps even more importantly have people believe it to be true?

In my world facts are provincial and most things we can agree on. There could be someone who claimed like the third person but they would have very little to back that claim up.

That doesn't mean that they couldn't be right, just like claims of gods existence could be true. I am just not very likely to take them serious (but others might for whatever reason they have)

I would rather live in a world where some people believe in the third story than live in a world where everyone only believes in the first.

> I think the quote you refer to speaks for itself.

With all due respect, you're missing my point. My point is that the quote doesn't speak for itself. It leaves all the really hard questions unanswered.

Here are some of the hard questions that I have in mind:

1) Are any statements concerning history not perspectival? (If so, why and what kind or kinds? If not, wow: not even (putatively) factual statements like 'World War I broke out in the year 1914'?)

2) If historical statements are so deeply perspectival, how do we rank or otherwise evaluate competing statements about history? If we don't rank or evaluate them at all, how do we form coherent sets of beliefs about the past (which many people appear to do)? How do people manage to choose between conflicting claims? How should they choose?

3) Are all statements about history equally valid? If so, does this run the risk of meaning that all statements about history are equally 'invalid'? If not, why not?

4) Are historical statements especially perspectival or are all statements of belief (period) perspectival? If historical statements are especially perspectival, why? If not - if everything anyone states is completely perspectival - wow. Again, that's a big claim.

Yes, my argument used a reductio ad absurdum, but I wan't trying to make your claim absurd. That is, I truly meant to take it seriously: seriously enough to dispute, to ask questions about and to discuss. Saying that all historical claims are perspectival is a big claim. I was genuinely asking you to clarify what you meant.

1) To answer that fully we will need to dig into what is a factual statement. I would gladly discuss the nature of facts but don't find this to to be the forum.

But my basic believe is that facts are true in context. Relative not objective. Facts (reductional interpretations of reality) are described from the vantage point of the observer. We can experience what we call reality in a certain way but not in all possible ways.

And that is all fine and good. We don't need true, just useful.

2) We evaluate them within the different clusters we live in. There are people who believe that holocaust never happened. There are people who believe that 9/11 was orchestrated by the US. Most people though believe the same things. World War I broke out in the year 1914.

That does not by any metrics mean that that is a true statement. You could very well argue that it broke out way before that. Cause I take it you agree that people didn't wake up one day in the year 1914 and thought, let's have a war.

The coherent sets of beliefs used to be mainly cultural now they'r exposed on the internet. And people form around various perspectives. So you have clusters of perspectives. That is why you have what seem to be agreement on those perspectives.

That is why there aren't anyone claiming that the Alpha Centaurions secretly invaded the planet to initiate I or II WW. It could be true but there is nothing factual (and again I refer you to 1) ) to construct that belief.

There are however many other conflicting and competing view. Less about the factual parts (D-Day) more about the meaning of that day. The factual parts are not really that interesting and they are certainly not important. Only to the people who actually where around at that time.

As long as you know that it happened 6 June 1944 +- a couple of days or months (with time and as the people who lived at that time dies, the accepted +- span will grow ever bigger) you are ok.

3) Again you are confusing two things here. There are factual statements (that might or might not be true and again I refer you to 1) and then there is the interpretation of these facts. I am more concerned with the latter part than the first.

4) There is nothing big in that claim. I would be happy to discuss this further but not here. Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyrabend have all done a fairly good job at describing some of the problems with believing in objective truths. I have my own views. We can discuss but then we should find a place to take it. Hmm maybe there is even a small side project idea there.

1) Facts exist. Often we have an incomplete understanding of facts, and there is something like a working mental model of facts. An educated mind allows for the possibility that the facts are sometimes subject to new information which can sometimes change them. Without these facts, we couldn't make buildings stand up, and they do. They do because we have an understanding of how to make them do so based on facts. Homicide detectives and heart surgeons have a notion of facts based on evidence and very very often they get it right because there are knowable, searchable, demonstrable facts. If you doubt objective reality then imagine sleepwalking in front of a train: your perspective is irrelevant. The train is coming whether you know it or not. 2) Sometimes people are wrong. Sometimes people aren't interested in facts because it conflicts with their agenda. Some people don't want to work to find the truth. That's why proof and evidence are so important. "When did WWI start?" might require years of study to understand the complexities of what touched off that where and provide a nuanced "answer". Hearing different voices on this topic is part of an education, but being able to differentiate credible voices from those who attempt to instrumentalize the past, or worse yet, provide some kind of hard and fast sense of history by omitting important facts, is NOT a good way to educate the populace.

3) Interpretation is also based on what you can back up. I can interpret "There are no aliens in Roswell New Mexico" to mean "There are DEFINITELY aliens in Roswell New Mexico". However, without some kind of proof behind that interpretation see number 1. A bad working model of the territory makes a bad map. Also, the claim that facts are neither interesting nor important is false and dangerous.


You ar missing the point. Facts are not objective because interpretations are not. Man hit by train is not the only interpretation of two clusters of atoms hitting each other.

Death is not the only interpretation of the carbon based structure that is now smeared on to the front of the steel construction

Interpretations don't change conditions; conditions exist regardless of perception or interpretation. At the point where interpretation becomes so obtuse as to try to revise the immutable reality of death (and taxes?), something is wrong. When this kind of relativistic, obtuse, "subjective" argument is brought to bear it is usually driven by a political bias(I.E. "Our" history versus "Their" history.) Certainly interpretation can play a part in communication but more often misinterpreting reality leads to consequences of a nature not interpretable, such as the loss of a work situation. What I mean to say is, the limits of the subjective stretch only so far before playing with them leads to consequences in real life. Play semantic games with a spouse or boss and see how far it goes.

"All attempts to write about history is pushing someone's agenda."

On the other hand, if anyone is looking to read history written from a dispassionate, objective point of view, I heartily recommend "100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present".


Having the words you write be dispassionate and objective doesn't mean you lack an agenda. Everything written ever picks a small set of facts to consider from an effectively infinite set of facts.

The choice of which facts to include, moreover, represents a fairly strong bias; it says that this set of facts is more interesting or important or whatever than most other sets, and enough so that you should ignore all the other sets for the moment and just look at this set.

Which, in the case of this particular book, presumably, along with the countless choices about which facts to include about each battle, also includes at least a) the choice of which 100 battles, and b) the choice that battles of any kind are important enough to talk about for a whole book.

So even if the author tries to stay away from expressing an agenda on the usual axes, I doubt he successfully avoids having one altogether.

True enough. I suppose the reason this book is so good is because it focuses on 100 distinct events which the author believes completely transformed the course of history --- and explains the reasons why they believe this to be true.

History is full of examples of a small force overwhelming a large force against all odds, and I love reading about the clever tricks and twists of fate that made it possible. The fact that the outcome of each battle completely shifted the course of history is an added source of awesomeness.

Sure, Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 were landmarks. But they would have happened eventually --- whether Russia or America did it first seems little more than a silly contest of the times.

But when you read the above book and realize that "Europe, as we know it today, would be completely and utterly different if, thousands of years ago, this one person had not made the monumentally stupid decision of keeping his army awake all night" .... well, that seems to me what makes history so interesting, no?

If I said that scientific theory was all perspective without right or wrong I'd get pilloried here, and with good reason.

Any interpretation of historical observations is analogous to a scientific theory like gravity. It may fit the observations or not, and we can use Occam's to winnow the likely from the unlikely. The only bummer is that observations are generally not reproducible as in the hard sciences.

apples and oranges. Sure that's true if you want to dwindle history down to just dates and events. The value of history(I assume for most) is in the meaning and lessons we extrapolate from it. You can argue it's an objective process when at its best but it isn't necessarily consistent across all perspectives.

There's a line between perspective and propaganda. The pablum we feed high schoolers is the latter.

That comment got me, too, but I don't think it invalidates the other arguments. History teachers need to teach students why history is important, and it's not so you won't be embarrassed when the press asks you about Pal Revere. History teaches us lessons that help us make better decisions today.

(In case its not clear, I'm mostly agreeing with you. :)

What caught my challenged attention was the juxtaposition of this:

Mr. Khan stands exposed as possessing a historical perspective steeped in academia’s standard issue, postmodern, left-leaning narrative of cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and moral equivalence.

And then this:

In a sense, that’s what Internet personalization filters are already doing, creating an echo chamber where we only hear what we already believe. We can’t think about what we’ve never heard of.

And here I thought coherence was always a fashionable accessory.

You're going to have to explain why you think this is incoherent if you want people to argue against your position.

Right now, it looks like you're saying that the first quote's adjectives describe a meta-viewpoint that need not be examined as a viewpoint in and of itself.

Sure enough. I think it is incoherent to stand against a viewpoint of multicultural interpretations of historical events while condemning Facebook's tailoring of news because it hampers multicultural interpretations of current events.

I might have read too much and falsely concluded that the author is against Khan’s “historical perspective steeped in academia’s standard issue, postmodern, left-leaning narrative of cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and moral equivalence.” The OP might be neutral about that, and simply exposing the necessity of balancing Khan’s against a different narrative¹. If so, either his articulation was obfuscated by the choice of words or I need to practice my English a lot.

¹. Never mind the fact that this rarely occurs in real classrooms.

It may not invalidate, but it puts them into perspective. Most of his rant seems to be about how in Khan's quick summary of WW2, the UHmericans aren't portrayed as the morally superior righteous warriors / soldiers that defeated the evil Hitler and stopped his wrongdoings. And the Bolsheviks shouldn't have been mentioned without the required nuances that would teach present-day students that communism is evil. Or maybe I'm just speculating, but that's how it got to me.

I think it's more complex than that; in his point of view, History of WWII shouldn't be taught this way, in large (huge?) brush strokes. He argues (IMO successfully) that you must go deeper in details to get at least a basic grasp of these important events, and give them some meaning. Said differently, a simple list of loosely related facts simply doesn't constitute history; and to make the narrative compelling, understandable and memorable, you have to give at least one (and preferably several) explanation for the facts, else it's only kindergarten stories, not college-level material. Now I didn't see this particular video; maybe it's just a quick overview of what's to come in a long list of upcoming courses.

The history section is sketchy and just a beginning. Instead of latching onto the fringe of the Academy, History (perhaps because the math was beyond him), the author might have constructively suggested how to beef it up, present multiple views, talk about morals vs perspective.

Instead he chose to bash a popular figure. Probably because it gets hits on his blog, but who knows, I'm cynical.

It is indeed a "history overview". Kahn repeatedly mentions how he'll make more detailed videos later.

     There are multiple and various reasons for studying history, whether this is articulated clearly in everyone's mind or not.  Establish a baseline cultural past, instill moral values (ex. glorifying Person X's accomplishments), predict future results of actions, and entertainment are reasons that also spring to mind just off the top of the mind.
     If history is being taught simply to teach decision-making skills, then using a case study format would be one possible way to improve the current teaching methods.

Even if history is presented as a perspective, why choose Khans perspective? Why not choose another perspective?

You missed the bigger picture of the article, which is that a single entity never should control re-telling of events. There should not be one perspective. One person, one entity, can not provide different perspectives, due to echo chamber effects and such, it is almost impossible.

Isn't this kind of a straw man? Salman Khan is not a fascist dictator who prevents you from getting information anywhere else. He's just a teacher. I don't see how learning from him is more of a problem than learning from other teacher.

You could make your point even stronger: since the barriers to entry on the internet are so low, it has the potential to be a lot less intellectually constraining than an ordinary classroom, where typically there will be one teacher, with standardized lesson plans, teaching from a relentlessly bland textbook that passed through the censors in Texas and California.

But the Internet also has a significant winner-take-all character at the large end of the spectrum, due to network effects. See Facebook vs. MySpace and all the other social network carcasses in its wake. Mr. Khan's teaching videos might end up being the one-and-only source of education on the Internet. What then?

Then you can make your own better video and YouTube or Khan itself will host if for free and show that what you were afraid of is not actually possible and the social networking analogy does not hold up under cursory analysis.

The complaint is that he seems to be getting attention from a major donator and source of influence, which might get his "lessons" far more play than any random teacher. Which is a problem for the author since he feels the quality of the lessons is low.

I agree with him; these look like "make me look not stupid in casual conversation" lessons, they don't seem to impart a real understanding of history, of these major events and what impact they have on the present world.

And does anyone with a high school level education in history even understand WHY the archduke of Austria was assassinated? Or WHY none of the powers at the time could pull out of the resulting domino effect? Or the onerous terms of the treaty after the first war? Or the discontent it sowed, leaving fertile ground for a dictator to emerge? Without this context, how could WW2 ever be understood? And even this is glossing over a lot of important stuff, such as the various nations' foreign policy, public sentiment, local politics, and how it affected pretty much every operation of the war.

Who even remembers operation Market Garden or why it was significant?

Does anyone even know why and how bombing of metropolitan centers even started? Of course not! Easier to say goodies vs baddies and forget the details.

History is already taught without any useful context in school. It's rendered so dry and boring and detached from humanity that I'm surprised ANY learning happens at all.

Khan is doing very high level, very loose connections at the moment which, I'll admit, contain even less information than the school system pulp. However, I'd be interested in seeing how deep he goes with subsequent videos before passing judgment.

Yup, he could very well address this with more in depth videos, this being the super-quick overview so people can form a loose structure in their head.

Archduke was incredibly disliked by the people he was governing. Why none pulled out is a mystery to me. The terms basically crippled Germany until they decided to call the allies' bluff.

I have yet to take a college level history course, so I probably have errors.

It is a 15-minute video. That leaves approximately 99.995% of a viewer's life free to dig a little deeper into the subject matter. The quality contest is not Khan vs a Ph.D program in history, it is Khan vs Insane Clown Posse. Khan wins.

Should we teach different things to different children, then, in order to promote educational diversity?

It's a matter of perspective and what is said and isn't said. Consider these 2 accounts of the same event:

- The US Forces battle terrorist extremists to bring peace to the country, remove lethal weapons and pave the way for the first western-style democratic election.


- After decades of war, in which two world powers, Russia and America, secretly sent arms and weapons to the country to fight their proxy wars, and then America bringing their own troops in, the natives now use those same weapons to try and defeat the invader and preserve their traditions.

That smells like a rhetorical question. But my answer would be yes.

Interesting; can you elaborate? Surely it would be folly, say, to teach some children _wrong_ things simply for diversity. I doubt this is what you advocate, no?

In mathematics there is a well defined right and wrong, but in history there are often competing viewpoints of which none can be dismissed easily. I would say that to pick one as true and discard all the others is folly.

There are still many approaches to teaching mathematics, of varying and debating quality, so many of these concerns still apply. Math teaching is not a commodity we can simply stockpile using contributions from whoever tosses a bit in the kitty.

Why not choose as many perspectives as you possibly can? If human history (in the small-h sense, not the kind being argued about in TFA) is any kind of reliable guide, the truth will probably be somewhere betwixt all of them.

> I am hoping that my son grows up being taught by postmodernist that don't present history as fact

How else could it possibly be presented? Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say that history is "a perspective"? Can one change history simply by deciding to view it differently, somehow?

Our knowledge of the past is like memory - we don't actually remember what it was like when we were 3 - we remember remembering what it was like when we were 3.

It's filtered through secondary sources that are never completely reliable, and there is information lost because people die without telling anyone what they saw or did, or there's confusion, or, in war, the winner's perspective is presented as the only facts.

In the US, the obvious example is the history of the west, and the natives of North America. It was once viewed as the bringing of civilization to savages for their own good. Now its viewed as genocide. Because its being viewed from a different perspective.

Because pretty much all historical retellings are biased by the author/storyteller. There's both unintentional bias, and intentional bias in how historic events were portrayed.

Here's an example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_Bloodbath#Christian_t...

History is not comprised of a set of value-neutral facts. History is a narrative constructed out of fact and interpretations, and every history has a viewpoint.

Without question, one changes history by deciding to view it differently. If it didn't work that way, we'd only need one history book and we'd be done.

Well actually, history does consist of value-neutral facts, but the sum total of all those facts is far too complicated for any one mind to comprehend. This atom moved there, that atom moved here, and so forth. Even if you scale up to the actions of individual people rather than atoms, we're still far beyond what we could comprehend... and in any case, most of it isn't recorded.

Having acknowledged the limitations of the historian's knowledge, though, the question is what do you do next? A good historian will use the fact that he can't divorce himself from his own viewpoint as a reminder to be extremely cautious. A bad one will use it as an excuse to indulge his particular biases.

I cannot agree. There are so many "facts" that the mere selection of which ones get recorded already puts an overwhelming bias on the stories they tell. History is obsessed with narratives, and there is an ineluctable requirement, when doing history, to create a story where earlier "facts" leads to later "facts" in a hypothesis of cause and effect. The requirement for a pseudo-logical story with internal consistency further cherry-picks the "facts", until you're left with a complete bowdlerization of reality. The truth is, there are enough "facts" that you can very probably tell a whole lot of different stories using the raw material, but people have a very strong disinclination to cognitive dissonance and won't do this. They'll pick one and stick with it, and argue it against other stories in ego-driven battles, until a consensus emerges as a sociological phenomenon, rather than a fact-driven one.

One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Criminals often think they're justified in the actions they take; in fact, often they must self-justify their own actions in order to sleep at night at all, so they will have their own internally consistent narratives. It's extremely difficult to fight the dominant narrative once it has become accepted.

IMO, the highest value history has is in telling stories about a world which is different from our own, but for which we have somewhat believable evidence actually existed. The degrees to which it is different tell us what varies in human nature, and what stays the same, stays the same. It teaches us to not take the present moment too seriously as some kind of apex or nadir. But I don't think it actually tells us a whole lot about the past, per se.

A good historian will use the fact that he can't divorce himself from his own viewpoint as a reminder to be extremely cautious. A bad one will use it as an excuse to indulge his particular biases.

And a very bad one will pretend that he is being value-neutral and objective, and show no attentiveness to the interpretative nature of his work.

"A good historian will use the fact that he can't divorce himself from his own viewpoint as a reminder to be extremely cautious. A bad one will use it as an excuse to indulge his particular biases."

I'd say this is also true in the broader sense of how a person chooses to live in an inherently muddled world. You can take obstacles and confusion as a call to action and vigilant reflection, or you can use them as an excuse for giving up and accepting mediocrity.

Have you never heard the phrase "History is written by the victors"?

The problem is trying to determine what is objective fact - you often end up relying on witness statements, some of which will be lies or misremembered. And then you have to decide which facts are "most important", which events were the prime causes of a second event.

Unfortunately there is an unquestionably large amount of perspective and subjectiveness in history.

Yet the stated goal of history is not to in any way attempt re-telling of The Great Truth© .

The goal is not to determine what is objective fact. There is no such thing, not even in natural sciences such as physics. Dont forget that.

> The goal is not to determine what is objective fact. There is no such thing, not even in natural sciences such as physics. Dont forget that.

I'm not sure where you're going with that; follow that line of thought too far and you end up with solipsism.

Practically speaking, sure there are objective facts. The properties of mechanics and electromagnetism are facts, or close enough for everyday purposes. What happens when you throw a ball or turn on a light is not a cultural construct.

re: history, sure, no person has the Pure Truth, and any history reflects the viewpoint of its author(s). It's still useful to distinguish between things that happened and things that didn't happen.

For instance, World War II did not begin when Queen Mab, having been cast out of the Garden of Eden by Shiva, built a clone army in her underground fort in Antarctica then invaded Loompaland. That simply didn't happen.

It seems to me that there are objective facts; we just can't know them perfectly. Still, it's very useful to try to get an approximation.

The idea is that there are always too many facts and data, and it's a history textbook's job to present a curated set of information that forms an easy to understand narrative.

This often means that perspectives from less influential / marginalized groups are downplayed or even ignored.

Much of postmodernist history is about recognizing that this always happens and that there are always multiple perspectives to a historical event.

When the parent poster advocated having his children taught by a postmodernist, I think he more accurately wants teachers who can make students think for themselves. In the US you can be successful with a boring centrist mindset, you can go to graduate school and become part of the professional/political elite and not really think too much about things. Of course some elites are brilliant thinkers but DC is not exactly a hotbed of intellectual curiosity these days, and governance suffers.

Historical study can reveal a lot about the contradictions of ideology, the gap between political rhetoric/narrative vs reality. For this reason it can be a very politically charged topic. But even boring (to outsiders) topics are hotly contested—historical study is not ultimately the cataloging of facts, is it about the analysis of change in complex systems over time.

> Can one change history simply by deciding to view it differently, somehow?

It's often the case that history is not repeated as a mere sequence of events, but also as an interpretation as to _why_ those events occurred, and how factors at the time contributed to their occurrence.

Maybe we can admit that their is then also an element of conditioning to history as well as one of 'fact'?

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I agree completely; history is both what actually happened in the past, and the narrative that we construct for ourselves from those events.

What scares me about postmodernism is that many of its adherents seem to reject the idea of objective truth completely. That way madness lies.

It is not an extremist position. Everything is experienced through the medium of thought which makes all experiences highly subjective.

To magnify, the world as experienced by a single-cell organism is vastly different from the world you or I experience.

No doubt there is "something", but it is the height of human arrogance to believe that our version of that "something" is the correct one.

History is replete with narrative fallacy. The only semi-accurate sources are from people who witnessed an event as it happened and wrote a blow-by-blow account of it as it was happening with little to no interpretation or explanation - a liveblogging/tweetstream of it, if you will.

Two meanings of "history" here: one is what has actually happened in the past, the other is what we claim (or teach) happened. The former is static and impossible to know perfectly. The latter is necessarily a perspective. Obviously the latter has no effect on the former.

"few things about history and don't get the exact dates or details right."

This is exactly what a person needs to get right - the Chronology. Otherwise things do not make any sense.

For instance these facts:

Fact: The U.S. dropped two Nuclear bombs on Japan. Fact: Japan became the largest debt holder for the U.S.

..can be misconstrued to say something that did not occur, such as, "The U.S. dropped bombs on japan so they did not have to pay back their debt to them."

Now I know this is an extreme example, but the reasoning is the same. History is a study of facts that occurred; who, what, where - chronology provide the "why".

I agree. One correction though you are confusing Khan with Kahn. There is a difference.

I welcome opposing opinions but this itself doesn't present both sides of the argument, nor any context to the one example given, and sounds to me purely like a bashing exercise.

> sounds to me purely like a bashing exercise.

For the record, I like the Khan Academy and they do a lot of good; but I still think that's really unfair to say that given that the article brings up a really important point (regardless of its style of writing): Khan Academy history lessons are so abbreviated, that key, important points and figures in history are skipped. Why is this not good? One of the major key reasons we study history is so that major mistakes of the past are not repeated in the present or future. Now this is an extreme example that no Khan like outlet actually does, but what if they skipped over Jim Crowe laws in their history of the US?

Going on somewhat of a tangent, reading this article reminds me of this TED talk about filter bubbles.


Essentially Khan Academy and other ventures like it, may be inadvertently creating dangerous filter bubbles.

I seriously doubt a history lesson in 15 minutes that covered WWII to Vietnam is meant to be comprehensive. With that said, when I was in school we regularly covered a thousand years in a single page. And in many cases complete eras as pertained to geography were skipped altogether. To this day I don't think I could tell you the name of a single African King pre-1900.

With that said, one of the things I still prefer about Khan's lectures, even abbreviated ones like these stated, is that I can pause them at any time, and look up the Japanese oil embargo. And start right back up where I left off in the video. With live lectures at best you can take a note of it, and look it up later, but then other facts that build upon this in the lecture are missed -- and you may not even know that you missed them.

I agree with everything you just wrote, but I think you're missing the point of my post. I was just merely giving reasons as to why people shouldn't dismiss the article.

If they skip over something like Jim Crowe laws and someone notices, then that someone can mention it to Sal, explain why (s)he thinks it's important, and then Sal (or another instructor in the future) can make a video, and it can easily be incorporated into the curriculum. This process is much easier than it would be to incorporate it into a textbook, curriculum, etc.

"One of the major key reasons we study history is so that major mistakes of the past are not repeated in the present or future."

And yet we learn nothing from history even when we know what is considered factual.

The things we learn from history that are important become implicit part of our culture, our DNA not our curriculum.

> The things we learn from history that are important become part of our culture, not our curriculum.

How does it become part of our culture if it's not part of our curriculum? Given my own personal tastes (when I was a child), I would have skipped everything in history except for WWI, and WWII. Even with WWI and WWII, I probably would have only focused on the battles and not the social issues if given the chance. I wouldn't have learned about things like the Trail of Tears, the Japanese Internment camps in Hawaii, and so on.

And many people don't learn about those things because they are brought up in difference cultures. But to claim that some history books are better than others is just wrong. (I know you are not claiming that)

You will naturally learn your countries history albeit not to the point where you can become a history professor but it's not the end of the world.

History is perspective it can't be anything but perspective. There is no right or wrong teaching in history. Only survivors to tell the tales.

But to claim that some history books are better than others is just wrong.

How can you even write that? That statement is just so ridiculous as to befuddle belief. There are history books in existence written with deliberate lies mean to indoctrinate people in certain ways. Are you saying that these books are no different from other books that have no lies inserted? Are you saying that books that don't incorporate newly discovered evidence about the past aren't more complete than books which don't?

Yes, it's true that we have to account for the unreliable narrator, but to then say that we must abandon all attempt at objectivity with regard to history is absurd! There is so much one can do to mitigate the problems of an unreliable narrator and when we can't mitigate it entirely (most of the time,) we can always express our margin of error. True, there will always be some degree of uncertainty but the purpose of studying history is to decrease that degree of uncertainty.

I am saying that all there are no right way to tell a story.

No matter what history book you read it is excluding more things than it is including. That doesn't mean that you can't say factual wrong things. But the perspective of a history book can never be without an agenda nor without a perspective.

> You will naturally learn your countries history albeit not to the point where you can become a history professor

How? Through video game blockbusters like Call of Duty or summer movie hits like Saving Private Ryan?

How is Saving Private Ryan different from the US schools interpretation of 2nd World War?

How is Call of Duty different than a soldiers account of how a battlefield looked like? They are after all consulting soldiers.

I am not talking about learning historical facts but about growing up in a culture that has a memory of a past. Things that naturally flows between people.

I knew of 2nd world war before I had history, I knew of JFK before I had history. And I am Danish.

> How is Saving Private Ryan different from the US schools interpretation of 2nd World War?

Simple. It throws out a lot of the context and details of how we got to the meat grinder in the first place. It's traded for eye candy and emotion. All an individual with little background in the subject would know is that - these are the good guys over here and the bad guys over there.

> I knew of 2nd world war before I had history,

That's no surprise. Almost every kid enjoys anything with guns and bullets.

Having superficial knowledge of something is very different from getting a decent understanding of it. It's like knowing that Martin Luther was some guy who nailed a piece of paper to a door because he was angry with Catholicism, without understanding the details and background to how he got to the point and its future implications on the world.

How is Call of Duty different than a soldiers account of how a battlefield looked like?

Between a WWII veteran's personal account of the battles and playing CoD, which one would you pick? If you pick the veteran's account, you know that Call of Duty trivializes war. There is a difference.

That is simply your opinion.

I don't think it trivializes war.

Yes, it was my opinion. Did it seem otherwise? If so, I'm sorry.

For example.

Also during dinners at family table, chit-chats, watching TV news, reading newspapers, magazines, visiting museums, etc.

It is not the obligation of every article and every essay and every editorial to carefully present both sides of every argument. Sometimes, it's sufficient to carefully present your side of a new argument, just to stimulate discussion.

I disagree with Josh that this thread demonstrates HN groupthink (I actually found the comments to be pretty well balanced). But your comment demonstrates a fallacy that is very prevalent on HN, which is that every bit of source material has to be judged in HN's context, and anything that isn't suitably lawyered up and deferential is automatically faulty. The world is a pretty boring place when it provides nothing to stimulate your thoughts and, yes, disagree vehemently with.

I wouldn't expect an article named "The Dangerous Mr Kahn" to spend much type discussing the upside of the Kahn Academy. Going into it, it's obvious that it is an advocacy piece written by someone who's not thrilled with Mr Kahn's work.

The OP's point is that hn is a discussion forum, which is most effective when the discussions are somewhat balanced. But since the Kahn Academy is a darling of this forum, this article is here just to be knocked down, and anyone not joining in is likely to be downvoted. That makes hn less valuable.

Seeing how the comments on this thread were so divided, I read the article, and I support the view that it's a criticism that is worth considering, even though it's not highly convincing.

You can argue that covering WWII to Vietnam in 15 minutes is just mission impossible. But the way it's described in that article does raise concerns.

I'm with you but some of this article is just hyperbole. The quote from 1984 seems out of place at best given the context.

Dismissing all negative comments as "fanbois" is just polluting the discussion.

What I got from the article is that the author is blaming Khan for not explaining a few things in his history videos that may not be immediately obvious to a viewer.

I think this is a _much_ bigger issue in classrooms. I've had many instructors and professors at my university skip over the details. Because (1) they assume we know it already, (2) they are too lazy to discuss or write it, (3) there is not enough time.

Khan does an excellent job teaching in his math videos. Almost never have I felt like my questions weren't answered by him. He probably thinks as a beginner would and tries to make it as simplified as possible. He writes down everything. Even uses different colours for different concepts. Why? I don't know, maybe he wants to make sure his viewers benefit from his work. A classroom teacher couldn't care less, they still get paid at the end of the day.

Much of the practical value in history is found when you examine events in some depth. For example, taking a deeper look at the German encryption system or the code breaking infrastructure at Bletchley. Or examining how an entire nation managed to keep the D-Day invasion secret until the very last minute.

So, while this article might itself be a little breathless, I think it's valid criticism that glossing over History is unforgivable.

That is why SCOTUS allows dissenting opinions. Sometimes we just don't get it right the first time around and it is good to have a record of what we could have done better. But I'll be damned if I'm wrong on the internet!

I hear you, but I think the headline really invites the strong counter-response. The use of the word "dangerous" is provocative to say the least.

Has a point. The Khan Academy approach is very good for maths, and most sciences. These are cases where you can distil knowledge into a few examples and cases, and it works well. The viewer now has a working, and accurate mental model of whatever they were learning, without having to go through -everything- involved.

However, this approach to history and other topics can be a problem. While some of the criticism is somewhat overblown, it is valid. Distilling history and other social sciences down, to the degree that Khan does is very hard to do properly, and likely to introduce all sorts problems into the mental model of history the viewer has.

It's not a case of "taking sides" or whatever. But, if the Academy really does want to be "the classroom of the world", then it -should- go into enough detail to build accurate mental models. How much stuff do you think people learn in a classroom, and never have a chance to "relearn". How many incorrect mental models are formed, and then never corrected until catastrophe. The responsible thing to do, if attempting to be come the classroom of the world is to realize that if they are successful, then for many people, the Academy will be their sole source of information for some topics (as in, not the only source of information, but the only source that they go to), and teach accordingly. Either have the lesson be able to provide an accurate and correct mental model, or make the learner explicitly aware that what they are learning is incomplete/unprecise/whatever.

"Either have the lesson be able to provide an accurate and correct mental model, or make the learner explicitly aware that what they are learning is incomplete/unprecise/whatever."

Khan does the latter, it is called an overview. I think this aspect of the original critic's article displayed his lack of understanding of an incremental and iterative approach. If we waited until he had completed every lecture on history, we'd never have any. Given the current state, and even considering the future state, it is nonsensical to judge it on the basis of being the "sole source" of information on a subject.

The second bad assumption is that Khan's work is somehow inferior to other high school teachers' presentations of the subject. In my experience, at a high school frequently referred to as the best in the US, we barely even made it through the Vietnam war, and the "mental model" presented was merely a random collection of facts.

If only this author could see the average high school history teacher in action, he would be demanding that they stop teaching kids to glue garbage on a piece of poster board and teach his version of the subject. The difference with Khan is that it's all out there. He's open for review, and the videos can be improved.

"Khan does the latter, it is called an overview."

It is an overview, but absurdly condensed. A skill like calculus can be thought in brief, clear overviews; you either understand _it_ or you don't.

History is no such _it_.


And yet few historically literate people understand the intimate workings of the alliance system prior to WW1[1] - but it is a vital piece of background information that explains a lot about what happened.

In my view, "the great powers had alliances and went to war to support one another" sums it up reasonably well, despite ignoring viral things like the 1839 Treaty of London[2], etc.

For someone studying post-Vietnam US history (say), I think the Kahn summary might be a reasonable background. Probably not sufficient in itself, but reasonable.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_I#Web_of_al... [2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_London,_1839

It's not about "you understand" xor "you don't understand". It's about level of detail.

The idea of 'overview' I have in mind is similar to how mipmapping and LOD works in video games/computer graphics.

FYI, I went to this high-school too, and it's a science and tech magnet school. Granted the liberal arts there are a notch above average, but it wasn't what the school was focused on, and from my experience, the history class was not on the level of a good AP class at other schools (though there certainly are plenty of bad AP classes out there).

I don't think this contradicts Matt's point, since the history classes he took were likely better than average for the US, but I feel he was overstating the quality of them.

"if the Academy really does want to be "the classroom of the world", then it -should- go into enough detail to build accurate mental models."

We have no context about the video here. Is it for 4th graders? High schoolers? For me, elementary school consisted of brief snippets of historical events (Christopher Columbus discovered America. Indians and settlers got along and had Thanksgiving), while high school consisted mostly of un-learning all of the stuff that they got wrong in elementary school (Columbus was actually a failure! Oh, native Americans hated us).

I don't think you can expect somebody getting their feet wet in history to pay attention to or care about historical subtleties.

I totally agree with you. I don't think history and many of the humanities can be distiller into 10 minute chunks. I don't think it would be fair to distil World War II into 15 minutes, much less the last 100 years. Trying to distil romanticism into 15 minutes seems just as impossible, since to understand romanticism, you need to understand the changing, industrializing world that birthed it.

My daughter's history class this year did not focus on dates at all. It didn't even really focus on facts. Instead, it focused on why events were taking place, what the impacts of those events were, and why that is important to understand today. This is the way to teach history, but it's a lot harder because it requires interpretation.

Couldn't you also say that its impossible to condense calculus into 10 minute chunks because you have to understand Algebra first? All learning requires context, but that doesn't have anything to do with whether can break it up into courses, books, chapters, lectures, or 10 minute chunks.

Absolutely. But you can't teach calculus in 10 minutes. Pretending you can teach 40 years of 20th century history in 10 minutes is just silly, even if you are just giving an overview. At some point, the overview becomes meaningless and information free.

The way the author writes, it's as if he thinks there is some superior alternative that Khan is displacing. Last I checked, there ain't.

Fact is, Khan's videos are considered good because the actual history education that most students take away from classrooms is even worse. Like most other subjects, that's what you get when you try to deliver a comprehensive, objective, detail-oriented education to students who (within a small margin of error) couldn't give a shit. Never mind the Bolsheviks or the timeline -- what percentage of randomly sampled American high school graduates would even know that there was a Russian Revolution if you asked them?

If we can replace zero history with a fifteen-minute-chunk version of history, I'm for it.

it's as if he thinks there is some superior alternative that Khan is displacing. Last I checked, there ain't.

Yes, that's what I was thinking. The stuff the author quotes sounds bad, but probably better than you'd get from some teachers I had.

Plus on the Internet kids can watch these videos at any age. His simplified version of history could be way better than what e.g. an 8 year old might otherwise have access to.

His simplified version of history could be way better than what e.g. an 8 year old might otherwise have access to.

I've had four different eight-year-olds in my household, while living in two different countries, over the years, and any eight-year-old who is literate can find better information about history than what's in the current Khan Academy videos in any country where there is a public lending library. There is the issue, of course, of some students not having access to libraries, but there is also the issue of some students not having access to the Internet. In the best case, Salman Khan will implement his plan of having subject matter experts who have specialized knowledge of various topics (gained, in part, from their years of using libraries assiduously) produce a broader array of Khan Academy videos, and curious eight-year-olds will go beyond both Khan Academy and their school lessons by seeking out other sources of information on a variety of subjects. That's what I encourage my four children to do. Khan Academy is one of a huge variety of sources we use in homeschooling. In my day, as a pupil in a typical public school, I avidly supplemented my school lessons by reading library books. If Khan Academy is part of encouraging more young learners to be more curious and to seek out a greater variety of sources for their learning, more power to it.

In the site's current form, I think the fact that a viewer of any age can watch a history video is actually a bit problematic.

For mathematics, all of the material is broken down into the very basic components, so it's easy for a video to have a set of prerequisites which any viewer should understand before watching (with a set of links to the videos corresponding to those prerequisites).

For a subject like history, the material can't easily be broken down. As the article points out, a statement like "as you can imagine, Japan did not produce a lot of its own oil" may be common sense to someone of high-school age, but an 8-year old may have no understanding of how oil is produced or where it comes for and the statement may make no sense. This doesn't render KA as dangerous or useless, just points out a problem which needs to be solved and which they are certainly aware of :).

To me, that a viewer of any age can watch is practically the whole point of Khan Academy. Kids learn at different speeds and are interested in different subjects at different ages. Whatever subject you're talking about, there are some 8-year-olds who could benefit from it. The traditional approach of having grownups decide what material is suitable for what age is guaranteed to produce a mixture of kids who are bored and kids who are lost; khan materials present the promise that kids might be able to learn at their own pace and according to their own interests. The ones who find history of X fascinating will race ahead and do related research and file info away for later; the ones who lack context will probably be bored and lose interest and want to study something else and that's okay.

Agreed. Watching Carl Sagan´s Cosmos at age 9 was fascinating, even though a second viewing, years later, was much more informative.

The author is right about how dangerous it is for students to only learn from one source though. However, how is this different someone who gets all their news from Fox? Each person has their internal bias, and will learn from their chosen source. Existing education system, ranging from school texts right down to the career path is dictated by academia. I can't see a better alternative other than simple freedom for people to chose who they wish to learn from, and how they wish to lead their lives.

In this case, it doesn't matter that Khan is displacing worse things. These videos are still a disservice to their viewers.

Better for people to know that they don't understand history, then to wrongly think they do know it. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

>A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

For a pilot of a Boeing 747, yes, it is. For an eight year old learning history, a little knowledge is probably the very best first-step on the path to a lot of knowledge.

>The way the author writes, it's as if he thinks there is some superior alternative that Khan is displacing. Last I checked, there ain't.

Are there no libraries? I believe that if you are truly self motivated enough to learn US history on your own (which is what the Khan academy is supposed to do), you'd be better off actually looking up a syllabus online and reading about the topics yourself.

A 15 minute summary of US history between World War II and Vietnam can only create the illusion of understanding, which I would argue is indeed worse than zero history (a factoid I find highly debatable).

+1 for libraries. It's funny that on HN, where people constantly insist that text is a faster way to convey information, opening a history book is not even considered.

To me, it goes back to the goal of the Khan academy: is this meant for pop culture consumption, or more in-depth knowledge?

How does reading the diary of Ann Frank compare to Khan's video?

There's a lot to be said for learning something in multiple passes. A fifteen-minute overview video can give a vague notion of what happened when, and lay the ground work for more detail later -- as well as, perhaps, piquing a student's interest. There aren't that many students who will voluntarily go read through a history book. There are considerably more who will watch a 15-minute history overview video, which may make them more likely to study more history later.

So, watch a video, read a book, read a bunch of books. None of this stuff is mutually exclusive. Rather, I would say its complementary.

The problem is that you think someone who watches this video would then "know there was a Russian Revolution." No, they wouldn't--at least not in any strong sense of the term "know". All they would have is some phonetic sequence that they could repeat.

At that point, it's just a game of 'guess the password'. http://lesswrong.com/lw/iq/guessing_the_teachers_password/

I don't think the students who miss out of high school history are the ones watching this video.

A visit to the wikipedia entry on the National Association of Scholars may help you understand the author's perspective.

The first half of this article makes a reasonably convincing case that Mr. Khan is a much worse history teacher than math tutor. The second half of the article makes a totally convincing case that the author understands the Internet worse than Khan understands anything.

I guess in his nightmare scenario the "algorithms of the Internet" will one day cause everyone's web-browsers to redirect every request to one of Mr. Khan's fizzy history lectures where he just glosses right over the moral infallibility of the US, the inherent superiority of western culture, and the fact that Jesus died for your sins. The same algorithms will doubtless prevent the author from creating his own history videos clarifying those topics for people. After all, Mr. Khan appeared on Charlie Rose!

Exactly: NAS "opposes multiculturalism and affirmative action and seeks to counter what it considers a 'liberal bias' in academia"

Quotes from this article:

"Mr. Khan stands exposed as possessing a historical perspective steeped in academia’s standard issue, postmodern, left-leaning narrative of cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and moral equivalence"

"A MoveOn.org liberal,..."

This article can be safely ignored, including the author's other article about how "Online education should serve as a home for orphaned liberal arts and "boutique" courses."

There are actually more substantive and constructive criticisms of the Khan Academy out there. But ultimately, we should make sure we don't ignore the great parts of it, either. After all, one guy recording screencasts and sharing them on youtube has helped millions of students now with understanding and doing math and other topics. With no budget and no formal training.

Imagine if we had 1000 or 10,000 Salman Khan's teaching the public online, with perhaps a little more pedagogical content knowledge (http://www.tpck.org/tpck/index.php?title=Pedagogical_Content... ), and using other tools in addition to just video (simulations, assessments, etc.).

So, their biggest problems with Khan are that he doesn't go into enough detail and that he doesn't pick sides in the wars?

Wow, that -is- dangerous. He might teach children to think for themselves or something!

As for the Skinner Box, the internet is anything but. Yes, you tend to only see things you want to, etc... But there is nothing stopping you from seeing other things, and most sites will step out of your comfort zone quite a lot.

They honestly believe that somehow Khan's videos could become the -only- resource for learning about history. Not a chance.

It's challenging to think for yourself when you don't have enough information to make reasoned decisions.

How many people have watched Khan's video who otherwise wouldn't have learned shit about WWII or the Korean War. I know I learned stuff about the Korean War myself which I wouldn't have learned otherwise.

It's even harder when you're given a biased view of the facts and don't realize there might be more.

The fact that he doesn't provide -everything- has a plus side in my book: It forces them to seek out more information if they want to have an opinion.

+1 for the idea that history is more than an "incoherent torrent of factoids"

I heard Khan say recently on the Colbert Report that he read the Wikipedia article on the French Revolution as his source before making his video on the subject.

That's fine for his purposes, but somewhere up the information food chain someone must actually read the sources, weigh them, interpret, compare, and do all the other work of understanding and transmitting history. It's hard to imagine that those 'educated' by Khan can take up this work, or if they do, that by the time they become competent, they will regard his videos as anything other than inconsequential in their effort.

However, I do think it's overblown to say that Khan is any more dangerous than Cliff's notes or similar supposed shortcut to education. And I suspect his math and finance videos might be quite good, based on the response, and on the fact that he actually spent time in school learning math and finance. (But I haven't watched them.)

"It's hard to imagine that those 'educated' by Khan can take up this work, or if they do, that by the time they become competent, they will regard his videos as anything other than inconsequential in their effort."

It's a starting point. A good starting point is more important than is usually realized. The start Khan gives, you can now do in-depth research into the history to flesh it out. Without a good overview to start with, you can quickly get bogged down in the details and lose all interest.

Lord knows that's how history classes were for me. They'd pick 1 tiny piece of it and give you way too much information to process and remember, then move on to the next and ignore the previous info completely... Until the test.

A good overview would have let things settle a bit before getting into the details.

Interesting. Do you now see yourself as deeply engrossed in history and doing the real work necessary to become a competent historian? If so, then your example is a counterpoint to my argument. If not, then we're talking about two different things :)

his math and finance videos might be quite good [...] But I haven't watched them

You may want to try watching a few first. Based on the amount of praise Khan received on HN, I had high hopes. So I did watch a few, and I was disappointed. I'm not sure what I was expecting.

I think on HN a lot of people love the concept of online education that Khan represents, but many have not bothered to seriously try it.

I've tried it. Or rather, my students did.

Back when I was teaching, I know many of my students found Khan more understandable than me (or at least complementary to me). I started encouraging everyone to go watch Khan videos and see if they liked them. Many did, and learned quite a bit from them.

I didn't like Khan that much - his style didn't work well for me. But it worked for many people. It's a lot to expect a single lecturer to be perfect for everyone.

What would be really great is if we had multiple Khans, each teaching in different styles.

Coming into a Khan Academy video expecting visual effects (or any effects for that manner) that make a video "impressive" is missing the point. For many, the lectures of a teacher are lost time. Some students (myself included) have struggled to pay attention, struggled to grasp the material, and struggled to relate. What I wouldn't give for some of the years back that I let lectures pass me by without any understanding whatsoever. Being able to go home after class and watch (and re-watch) Khan Academy videos has been instrumental in my learning.

That isn't to say (and I don't think Sal would say this either) that Khan Academy is the end-all of the new online education. Far from it. But it gives students a new opportunity for easy-to-access lectures, and it gives teachers a new paradigm on the "classroom experience". Check out Sal's TED talk for more on that (http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_rein...).

As an MBA student, I was a tutor and mentor for local middle-school students, and for some there was the sense that school and education had passed them by. They either weren't interested in learning, or their teachers had given up on them, or their family life wasn't currently conducive to learning. Knowing all the details to Conic Sections, understanding discount rates, or the French Revolution isn't what is crucial for them. Having a learning experience they can control and interact with is what is most important. Khan's videos are by definition eternally patient, and will even wait for you to look something up in Google or on Wikipedia before continuing. There is no shame involved here - only learning. To criticize Sal Khan is a real shame. For a society of scholars to do it is absolutely wrong in my eyes. Good for you Sal, and good luck!

Yes, good point. Now that I look over the comments, everyone seems to say the same thing. That's enough to lead me to believe it should be re-examined. Truth is, I once watched half a video but got bored.

It's quite apparent to me that Mr. Clemens' political leanings and the exigencies of blogging culture have worked together to transform a worthwhile small point into a pretty overbaked big point. Mr. Clemens demonstrates ably, I think, that Mr. Khan is a lousy history teacher. I haven't taken any of his science courses, so I can't speak about them, but it's clear that when it comes to history Mr. Khan lacks the depth of knowledge and fluency with the facts to teach effectively. So he ends up missing things, leaving things unexplained, falling back on pop culture depictions, oversimplifying motivations.

On the other hand—what does this have to do with pretty much anything else? I think it's not a stretch to see how every deficiency displayed there can be directly derived from a lack of familiarity with the material. Do you really need to try to make the overheated claim that being waffly with facts and simplistic with the human narrative is the result of an academia-enforced political and epistemological philosophy? Mr. Khan isn't exactly saying, you know, 'As we learn from a cursory reading of Baudrillard, the concept that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in any meaningful, substantial way is clearly a fiction of the necessities of realpolitik.' He's just fudging it. Mr Clemens continues to spiral outward, proposing a grim reality where all our education is mediated through Facebook and thus (because of the nature of Facebook's algorithms at the moment) through political conformity, confirmation bias, and groupthink—which results in Mr. Khan's own pernicious beliefs being beamed, unopposed, into the minds of our modern youth. All this from “from FDR’s point of view, Hitler definitely was in the wrong here” and a reference to _Saving Private Ryan_.

Mr Clemens should have restricted his aim to a more manageable and germane topic: the unfortunate fiction that we can teach history, or anything else, by reading out loud from the textbook, or by stringing together a sequence of pictures of famous people. Teaching is hard, and many people in lecture halls and seminars all across this great nation do it poorly every day. Unfortunately, when it comes to World War II, Mr. Khan is a member of their ranks. I'm not sure that Bill Gates' neoliberal plans for a New World Order history course necessarily enter into it.

As someone who has been a teacher and trainer of various kinds, removing your own bias from your teaching does not come naturally or easily. So I think the points made (while exaggerated) have at least a kernel of validity. However, ranting on a blog is not a productive response. Instead, I'd document them as constructive criticism and send them to Mr. Khan directly. I've got to believe that anyone who is passionate enough about education to put the Khan academy together in the first place is also willing to hear suggestions on improvements.

Is removing bias even possible? I mean, even if you succeed from removing your own personal bias, can you be sure that the person who wrote the material from which you learned had successfully removed their bias? And the person from which they learned?

On the facts reported in the submitted article, I would have to suggest that Mr. Khan bring some expert historians (preferably of multiple cultural backgrounds and different nationalities) on board his project to produce the history videos. He could well devote his own time to producing more videos on more elementary levels of math, as elementary mathematics is still very poorly taught in much of the English-speaking world.




The author's complaint seems to be that the Khan Academy's history lectures give an overly simplified view of history and that this, along with their availability, will make them more attractive to students who, the author fears, will watch Khan Academy videos in lieu of studying the topics in depth. This, he fears, will lead to a cultural forgetfulness of what the author considers to be the important moral lessons of WWII.

It's an important objection. There is a real tendency towards laziness among human begins and an easy availability of a simplified history could discourage people from deeper study. A simplified history from only one viewpoint is even worse. But I think he's pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Wikipedia is already a far greater threat on that matter and their are plenty of simplified versions of history available, some even taught in schools. Sal is only example of this (and possibly a product as the author alludes.) The proper solution would be more, and more in depth videos from other perspectives. I know some people who might be willing to do just that...

The thing I remember was almost always missing in the education process I went through right up to the university was the big picture. A brief summary, a TL;DR, an idea, an answer to questions like "what does it mean?" or "why should I care?".

My experience with education is that for most of the time, we are being taught 'the form', not 'the contents'. It was after I've watched SICP video lectures that I finally understood many computer science concepts that I was being taught (read: forced to memorize for the exam) at university and even in high school.

I strongly believe in what Einstein said: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." If Khan can summarize almost entire XX century into a 15-minute talk while staying correct with the facts, then that's great. It's what we call a 'high level overview'. It might be not sufficient, but it's a good start, as it constructs a skeleton which makes the details stick easier in our brains.

The thing I remember was almost always missing in the education process I went through right up to the university was the big picture.

What do you think the learner's responsibility is in the educational process? I am a teacher, and I do attempt to provide both big-picture ideas and detailed supporting facts and examples as I teach my students. (I try to elicit a lot of those from my students themselves, with a discussion format with lots of questions and answers as I present new concepts.) But I would hate to be in the position of my high school American history teacher, who was frequently interrupted by one of my classmates who would ask, "How am I supposed to write that down in my notes?" When I was in university studies, I read a very interesting book called Speaking and Listening

(It may be this book on Google Books, but I am not completely sure:


as it has been a long time since I read the book)

in which I learned about the style of note-taking that many people call "Cornell notes"





in which it is the note-taker's responsibility to sum up what the lecture means and what the main points are. Taking that approach was very helpful for me in my university studies and especially in my postgraduate professional school studies. I think Einstein too would agree


that ultimately it is up to the learner to seek understanding of the main points of any subject.

Thanks for the link to "Cornell notes".

I don't think we should assume that learner has any responsibility in educational process - at least not when talking about kids. Keep in mind that from their perspective it looks more like them being locked up in classroom against his will, and it's only up to school to try not to kill his interest in the world around him.

I agree that if a learner cares enough to actually think about what was told on the lecture - to come up with his own understanding, to summarize on his own, etc. he will benefit greatly. One can't really understand anything without doing some mental work on his own.

If we talk about mature learners, than yes - they have a big responsibility in the educational process and they take it (sometimes in spite, not because of their tutor). But still, we can help them by conveying our ideas well. And it is especially important when dealing with children, as they don't give a damn about anything until proven interesting. It's actually quite understandable. Because, well, why should they care?

Okay, so the first part of this is nitpicking the obviously impossible task of summarising the history of the world (perhaps it was Khan's intention to simply get students interested in the subjects so that they could study them further), and then the second part verges on parody by putting together some poorly connected thoughts and trying to pass them off as an argument.

If this is representative of the type of person against the Khan Academy, I'm for it even more.

I agree strongly with the Author's issues with presenting history in this manner. History is a living document of clues that are merely interpreted by us- very little is fact.

I've been studying Egyptology for about 6 years now and it's amazing what perspectives have changed in that time. We're even starting to see stories now that are challenging the "Out of Africa" theory. Whenever I hear a teacher/lecturer describe something historical as fact, it makes me cringe because so much is left to interpretation.

Khan doing history in this manner is dangerous. But at the same time, the ways our schools do history is dangerous as well. Presenting singular perspectives and presenting them as fact only breeds misinformation.

I believe khan academy is superb for math and sciences, especially for quick overviews of concepts. But the format is absolutely terrible for presenting historical topics. Understanding history requires reading from many resources and coming to logical conclusions. A copy/paste job from wikipedia is simply pathetic.

>I pulled up his video “U.S. History Overview 3—World War II to Vietnam”

Well, there's your problem. If you concern yourself primarily with US History, as Khan does (and declares what he is doing), you're going to necessarily ignore a lot of non-US perspectives, like, y'know, Leningrad, Churchill, the rape of Nanking, Japan's lack of oil reserves, the whole bit. The real question is not whether Mr. Khan did a poor job of explaining US History, it is whether the idea of teaching "$country history", when we concern ourselves primarily with foreign affairs as Mr. Khan does, whether focusing on the actions of $country in an era of global politics gives a skewed and ultimately inaccurate perspective. The answer to that should be a rather obvious 'yes'...

I do doubt however that Mr. Khan truly hopes to achieve or at least does not really believe that he can achieve a monopoly in education. Perhaps his format will be copied but I doubt his lectures themselves will become the status quo especially if they are as lacking in depth as the example shown (I am not really familiar with the Khan Academy). The graver problem shown in the article does not really concern the Khan Academy but rather our method of consuming information from a general standpoint, and the dangers of the personalization of news; but this is a rather tired complaint, and the author does not suggest a novel approach for combatting it.

I believe it's still a very good way to get students to actually read a book. In 15 minutes, Khan does a great job, and the author of the article... well, he fails to get that.

The idea behind it is getting children interested in history enough that they would pick up a book. It's not, as I understand it, the only account of history they're expected to have. And to think otherwise is to think stupid.

In 15 minutes, Khan does a great job

A great job of what, exactly?

Of getting you into the narrative, interested enough to wonder – "what led to the cold war?" or things like that. I haven't seen the video, I've only read the article, and from what the author writes... it seems he goes directly into events without building / contextualising too much. But events are interesting (like the space race) to children, and they will probably be more interested once they've got a timeline of a few anecdotes, than if they started with a dense lesson for each topic.

I see it as investigative learning: you get some facts, a few events, a few ideas... and you're curious. You want to get more knowledge or discover the truth behind something, then you try to fill those gaps with evidence (in this case, with more historical facts?).

I wouldn't dismiss Khan just because he doesn't go into detail with aspects. For example, the holocaust... it that the only thing that we remember from the WW2? In fact, Allies and Russia did not go to war because of the holocaust, so why is it so important that he mentions it? Is everything else so "not" important in WW2? If I were giving an account of it, I would even be praising Germany's technological advancements as a nation and comparing them to their contemporaries.

My question, then, is: is his lecture better, worse, or about the same as we'd expect in, say, a typical undergraduate history lecture?

I wouldn't dismiss Khan just because he doesn't go into detail with aspects

I wouldn't dream of doing that-- there's only so much detail one can fit into a brief lecture. The problem (if there is one) is one of selection and interpretation.

It seems to be pretty nitpicking. He says things that plenty of educators would likely say in describing events such as, "as you'd imagine".

His point about FDR's viewpoint of Hitler's invasion of Poland is really weak and I just don't get it. Everything actually is relative. The Germans probably thought it was just as fine (if not moreso) to invade Poland as in the US Bush thought it was ok to invade Iraq. Of course history is written by the victors. Had Germany won, it would have been written as a good action from their perspective.

So in 15 minutes he doesn't dig into terribly much detail. Let's face it, even after a teacher spends an entire semester going over this with 8th graders, in 10 years time do they remember all the details? Details are something that can come after interest is solidified. Pushing details on 8th graders misses the larger point often as it is buried in dates, maps, names and such. If you get them hooked on the main point, they will find the details.

To the author of the article, Mr. Clemens, and other academics annoyed by Mr. Khan's compressed description of important topics, I ask the following question:

Other than criticize this new source of education, what are YOU doing to address the needs of people hungry for learning other than continuing on the same well worn path that you've been on for decades?

Professional academics whining about Khan Academy ignore the fact that their customers are telling them something by flocking to Khan's videos. They're saying that higher education today doesn't always meet their needs, and they need these services packaged, priced, and delivered in new ways.

If Mr. Clemens doesn't like Khan's treatment of a particular topic, how about recording your own video that does it right.

It does seem easier to criticize and keep to your own cloistered little world rather than put yourself out there and try to innovate. But that's just my perspective.

I think this article is very interesting, if only to get a look at what objections might exist to an educational paradigm similar to KA. If we're serious about fighting for an efficient education system, we must be prepared to answer objections like this.

He brings up a few valid points that I haven't thought of before. Presumably, as systems like KA are adopted the amount of total educational material decreases, as individual curricula are replaced by a standard set of materials. This decreases diversity in the type of education available for students, which can be seen as a good or a bad thing. I bet the author would be all for the system if the videos were "conservative" and they were replacing curricula of "liberal" educators teaching our children filthy subjectivist lies.

The article is full of FUD, but Khan himself probably shouldn't be teaching humanities (like history) or social sciences (other than for his own specialization, economics) or the life sciences (and any other discipline he is not too familiar with).

The only real problem I have with the Khan Academy is that they appear to be using a mouse to write notes on the digital chalkboard. This is incredibly messy and really hard to understand.

For example:

In the first video on motion, Sal is going on and on about the topic, and is doing a wonderful job. At the same time, he's writing notes. This would be fine, except the first '=' he writes looks like a 'c', and then in his first example, he is literally saying "D is equal to fifty.", while clearly, his writing looks more like "d=60".

Seriously, couldn't Bill Gates buy some new tools for Sal? It really takes away from the production value when I see this.

The newer videos have more sophisticated drawing and recording software; he simply hasn't redone the old ones. Example:


He uses a Wacom tablet to write.

If the Khan Academy were the final station in someone's education, as the author silently presumes, that would be bad. It's simplified and sometimes wrong as the article points out (though no educating institution gets everything right) .

If on the other hand Khan Academy were the FIRST station in education: igniting passion for a subject - as it does for some people in math and economy - inspiring people to explore further and read more about it, mending the damage done by our institutional education!

Than that would be a great achievement regardless of the mistakes, simplicities and even the ideological leaning.

While this article does argue against Mr. Khan being the one and only teacher, it does not refute the effectiveness of his teaching.

This is exactly why every teacher should be delivering their course content in the same format as Khan. I am in the process of building a platform for any teacher to manage learning online in the same way that Khan has been so successful. I've been fortunate to be receive support on this transformation in education as recipient of the Thiel Fellowship: 20 Under 20. Visit http://ingenic.com to follow my progress.

How many brick and mortar history teachers are doing a far worse job than Khan? Probably a lot.

Ok, so the content can be tightened up, but that's not why Bill Gates is excited here. Take the Khan concept, pick the worlds finest educators in respective fields, build the content, and distribute. That's the game changer here.

I was at the Singularity summit in SLC this weekend and had the privilege of hearing Mr. Shantanu Sinha (president of Khan Academy) speak. One of the questions from the audience after his presentation was about how they plan to teach subjects that are more open to interpretation than math.

His answer (according to my notes) is that they are working on it, and it is a challenge to eliminate bias. He stressed that they have just recently grown to 8 employees thanks to the recent funding, and that they are doing their best.

Their overall vision is one of enabling true mastery of subjects by enabling students to proceed at their own pace, and expand upon on a topic only after mastering the prerequisites (switching from percent knowledge in fixed time to complete knowledge in variable time). The eventual goal is to change the in-class focus from data transmission to social interaction, learning interpersonal skills, communication, leadership, and teamwork.

I was sceptical about Khan academy, but I believe that with sufficient funding and attention they will be able to create a curriculum that is at least as good as what the average student gets now, and probably much better. They have also started experimenting with A/B testing using analytics on their 2 million students to find the most effective ways to teach.

Khan Academy is mostly about math, and it shouldn't be judged almost solely on the basis of one history video. I have my 7 year old doing math well beyond what they've taught him in school using Khan Academy.

It seems a bit strange that Mr Clemens [1] who is a English teacher that teaches online courses is commenting on issues concerning online teaching in history. Regardless he does bring up some very valid points that have plagued history scholars for centuries, but offers no real solution. I suppose the title "The Dangerous Mr. Kahn" that suggests that Mr. Kahn is dangerous to history education is a bit too sensationalist to suggest that he is any more dangerous than today's media, school teachers, disagreeing historians, and countless other attempts to present historical information in a categorical way. Everything is up to interpretation.

My interpretation of his overall point is that "no one person should control the messages of history". There is definitely some work to be done by Mr. Kahn in this regard and given his very open mind I don't doubt he already has considered this.

[1]- http://www.mpcfaculty.net/david_clemens/default.htm

I was quite disappointed by his non-technical lectures as well, and hope they improve.

But, even if they are improved, almost every student watching that lecture will miss a big part of the humanities--being with peers, actively engaging in group discussion, and finding responses to questions by actively synthesizing information. Having an interesting discussion is like finally coding something interesting with a new programming language you just picked up. Learning the facts or the syntax isn't the point.

Khan has the vision that these videos will be used in conjunction with classroom teachers, but with roles reversed from the current school system--students will watch lectures on their own time, and in class, they will engage in discussions and doing practice problems. This seems to be the part that was missed in the article, and much of the discussion here. If that symbiosis is executed correctly (and the lectures are improved), this could be powerful.

I don't think he gets that Khan isn't the big idea. The market can select for history teachers that are better than Khan. The big idea is that many won't need universities moving forward.

From the article, Khan lectures on things he knows nothing about. Is that the revolution in education everyone is so excited about? Getting teachers that don't know the subject matter? His background is math and engineering, his history knowledge he gets from movies and his biology, he gets from pondering. Charlatan, definition of.

Khan on history of D-Day: "if you’ve ever seen Saving Private Ryan it starts with this and it’s probably, you know, I’ve never been in, never been on . . . never stormed a beach, but I can imagine it is probably the most realistic re-enactment of what it was like to storm the beach at Normandy"

Khan on Entropy: In a recent talk he explained how he prepared for his lecture on entropy: "I took two weeks off and I just pondered it, and I called every professor and everyone I could talk to and I said, Let's go have a glass of wine about entropy.

and his biology, he gets from pondering...

Khan on Entropy: In a recent talk he explained how he prepared for his lecture on entropy: "I took two weeks off and I just pondered it, and I called every professor and everyone I could talk to and I said, Let's go have a glass of wine about entropy."

I'm sure you realise that entropy is not a concept from biology, but it isn't clear from your comment.

Since he has a background in engineering, and therefore a reasonable physics and chemistry grounding, I would guess that he had his "glasses of wine" and pondering to make sure he covered all the bases, and thought of a helpful way of explaining it.

Have you watched his lectures on entropy? Is there anything wrong with them? I'm sure constructive criticism is better than calling him names and picking on his research methods.

I think the Khan methodology works very very well for elementary math, and I'm a huge fan of the automatically-generated practice problems. These are more valuable than the videos IMHO.

It's valid to point out that other subject matter may not be well presented by this kind of approach.

On the other hand, it's early days. So fast-forward 20-years when you can download a video-game from Khan Academy that will teach you about Vietnam or the Korean war that is exhaustively researched and curated by a hobbyist and veteran (from both sides) community.

Imagine downloading an interactive demo that shows that even if you target an airstrike to within 1m in an urban area, fragments will travel 500 m into neighbouring apartment blocks.

That would be better than kids learning their military history from CoD.

I think this article points out a weakness that has a rather simple solution: Khan should bring experts in other fields with a knack of teaching well into the academy.

Also, sometime in the near to mid-future, the platform should open up to allow anyone to submit their own video lectures.

I agree that there are some valid points however history books have also been written by someone or a group of people with a certain viewpoint. Facts are sometimes suppressed in support of their viewpoints.

Kahn's videos are what magazines are to books.

It's much more accessible/enjoyable to read a PC magazine than read a technical document. They expose topics to a much broader audience.

I loved the French Revolution videos.

The entire success of Khan Academy rests on providing simple quick introductions to different topics. If Khan made the videos longer or went into more details the students would get bored and it might as well be a History channel documentary or a NOVA science show (fun for certain people but unlikely to capture the interest of many 8th graders).

As to this specific video I actually thought it was very good - precisely because of Khan's conversational breezy style that managed to keep my interest even though I was quite familiar with these events. A longer lecture would have me closing the tab pretty quick and I imagine the same reaction from the target audience.

Lastly, Khan Academy videos in their current form are probably not going to replace the entire educational system, but if you want to get a quick introduction to a certain topic they seem to be effective. For example I just watched this video a few minutes ago and approximately doubled my knowledge of diabetes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPLjSY00JlE and I would guess some of the viewers have similar increases in their knowledge in other topics. THAT is where Khan Academy currently excels and it is a perfectly worthwhile contribution.

When presented with '1 + 1 = 2', some people will be interested enough to ask why, and others won't give a fuck. Same goes for 'Hitler invaded Poland'. It doesn't mean one person is better or worse than the other, they're just different.

The real problem will arise when people stop being interested. And when that happens it won't be the fault of the Khan Academy or wikipedia or the Internet or TV or video games or religion or <insert favoured target here>.

One of the author's gripes:

   Unfortunately, he does not explain what a Bolshevik
   is nor how or why the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian 
   empire, nor why it matters but no dilly-dallying, just
   fast forward and bingo...
This is a limitation of the 1-way set in stone nature of video. It could be addressed by augmenting the lecture with an interface similar to an interactive-movie-game at the arcades circa 1993 called Dragon's Lair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragons_Lair). A concept similar to "pick your own adventure" books but with video.

For instance, if some lecture L is about ideas A, B, C, D, and there is another lecture B+ in the library that specifically targets B in detail, then there could be an option presented to the user around the timestamp B to divert to B+ in depth, then come back to C. The important part is that the material is relevant as decided by the user. If they decide B+ isn't what they wanted, they could cut right back to C immediately.

I think the problem is bias.

Math can be taught without bias, as numbers can only be seen as numbers. There are only a few ways you can teach maths. When you teach history, it brings in a plethora of views, opinions, and bias. There will always be someone saying "hey wait a minute, you forgot <fact>.", and I'm not sure there's a way around that. At least not in history.

Entertaining read.

I agree with the assertion that The Khan Academy, via brief video clips, may be a terrible place to learn history (though it is GREAT for other subjects).

But as others have noted...who cares? The internet is filled with opinions and falsities, far more "dangerous" than anything on Mr. Khan's site, that pass themselves off as "history". It's just a matter of degree.

"Imagine the consequences if his videos did become the DOS or Windows of education: tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of young minds, all fed by Mr. Khan’s fizzy version of history. Not only would all students absorb the same value judgments, goofy comments, and cultural relativism, they would also conclude that Mr. Khan’s factoids constitute knowledge of history. "

Isn't the simple solution to this problem is to hire other teachers than just having Mr. Khan do everything? In addition to Mr. Khan, hire some Japanese, Germany, and Russian history teachers so we get another perspective in addition to an American one.

Perhaps Khan Academy should become the universal platform for teachers from around the world to deliver their curriculum. Then we would have a much richer education system with a plethora of perspectives--which would even beat our current system of one teacher teaching everything in a classroom.

The postmodern approach of teaching history as a perspective is flawed in that this perspective should be developed by the student and not fed to them by the teacher. How can a student develop perspective without knowledge of facts? How is this different from dogma?

Uh. Would citing sources of information with pop-ups in the videos help? Perhaps links to online books or wikipedia articles (which I realize potentially creates a loop of false references, but whatever)

I looked up the author of the article. He is a professor , I wanted to see what his great book course was about, I could not access it and Khan academy offers me Instant access , this is something that the people in academics like him do not seem to understand why kids love khan academy. BTW here is the course and I am definitely not interested in it http://www.mpc.edu/academics/Humanities/GreatBooks/Pages/Gre...

Oh no, a 15 minute summary of the history form WWII to Vietnam isn't thorough Well, I, never!

In all seriousness, I am not sure what the author's point is. Summaries lack detail? Short things are short?

One of the author's points is that the essence of history is "who & why", not "what & when," and that Khan is completely omitting that essence in his summaries.

The whole point of a Summary video of history, and what is tested in class for most students, is the what and when - not the who and why.

Also, from reading the original scare-mongering article based on a single video viewed by the author, i didn't get the feeling that he was complaining about the lack of 'who and why' but rather libruls like Khan and Gates are taking over the world and throws in a irrelevant point about personalization engines in google and facebook.

Yes, the article read like something produced by The Heritage Foundation; but that doesn't mean it cannot have some valid points along the way.

As to your first sentence, one of the largest weaknesses of the entire essay is that most every criticism being applied to Khan could be applied equally to traditional education; the fact that something is tested for in class certainly doesn't make it the best thing to be learning.

Completely and totally off topic, but I find the popularity of the "filter bubble" concept fascinating.

It's not as if the vast majority of us didn't already manually create deeply effective filter bubbles, after all; but now that we can blame it on algorithms rather than our own nature, it's much easier to talk about.

(( Once upon a time I thought the internet would be a cultural/ideological melting pot, but it was clear a decade ago that it was having the opposite effect.... ))

Is it a bad thing that people are diverging into a greater multitude of more varied filter bubbles than ever before? It should be fine, as long as you can easily travel among bubbles. Back when filter bubbles were more geographic and cultural, it wasn't so easy to poke your head out and see really different worldviews. With the internet, it's easy.

People use the phrase "melting pot" like it's a good thing, but I don't want to be melted in a pot.

> it wasn't so easy to poke your head out and see really different worldviews. With the internet, it's easy.

That doesn't really matter if nobody does it -- and it turns out to be even easier to find (& stay in) communities that simply echo & reinforce your worldview.

As for the rest, I think you're just being contrary for the sake of being contrary. It seems fairly obvious that one of the least intellectually healthy things out there, from individuals all the way up to societies, is to be surrounded solely by people who agree with you. Isolation breeds ignorance and extremism.

It is a lot easier to write an essay critique than it is to sit down and fix the problem by recording your own set of video lectures that teach people what you know.

I like to think of Mr Khan efforts as something similar to those of the mentor in Sophie's World. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophies_World He can teach the audience on how to think about subjects, but I doubt he can be deep on all of them. This is very helpful but is not scalable. I wonder how this effort will become mature if it continues to get funded and promoted.

While I think that the criticisms in this piece were misplaced, its very possible that there are better free history resources out there. I've very much enjoyed the History According to Bob podcast series, for instance, but those would probably be too in depth for teaching kids, except the overview episodes. http://www.summahistorica.com/index.htm

Math and hard science learning can be reasonably measured by the kind of objective testing that KA does, however that is inadequate for subjects like history. Knowing about a bunch of events says nothing about the "lesson". I wonder how KA plans to address that, if at all.

IMO, it'll be good if KA focuses on the hard basics like mathematics. (By "hard" I don't mean "difficult" btw.)

I watched a few of the Khan Academy videos. They're fun and entertaining and you may even learn a little, but they don't cover anything beyond the surface of a topic. I think the Open Yale videos where you can watch a full semester of a Yale professor's class are far more informative: http://oyc.yale.edu/

I went there expecting teachers whining about a new teaching model, but seeing what the videos really are like, and the things said, I fully agree with the article. I think having a full video based classroom for everyone would be good, but Mr Khan seems to be doing a rather sloppy job filling every topic in the world by himself.

It seems like teaching how to research and read about history would be better than short narratives about various periods.

Uh oh, Mr. Khan is not reactionary enough for the tastes of someone like Clemens:

Here Mr. Khan stands exposed as possessing a historical perspective steeped in academia’s standard issue, postmodern, left-leaning narrative of cultural relativism, multiculturalism, and moral equivalence.

After reading the article I feel it 'attacks' Sal individually and not the KA as a whole, quoting vocabulary used by him. "Historical velocity is achieved through words and phrases such as “essentially,” “fast forward,” and “as you can imagine.”

Khan's physics videos are no better. Excerpts below from my series taking a critical view of Khan Academy: http://bit.ly/khancritic ...

Ironically, Khan's TED talk is in stark contrast to two previous TED talks:

* Dan Meyer - Math Curriculum Makeover http://bit.ly/DanMeyerTED * Sir Ken Robinson - Do Schools Kill Creativity? http://bit.ly/SirKenTED

According to Dan, today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect (and excel at) paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. How does Khan Academy foster problem posing and creativity?

If your philosophy of education is sit-and-get, i.e., teaching is telling and learning is listening, then Khan Academy (and flipping) are more efficient than in-classroom lecturing.

But why lecture at all? TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education visionaries and revolutionaries don’t want to do these things better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.

Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, teachers should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together. For example, instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, Modeling Instruction in Physics emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world. In comparison to traditional instruction, Modeling is extremely effective — under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.

Watch one Modeling class in action: http://bit.ly/ModelingPhysics . In the clip, the teacher says, “I don’t lecture at all. Instead, I create experiences for the students either in the lab or puzzles and problems for them to solve and it’s up to them to try to figure that out.” I’ve often wondered why this type of teaching hasn’t gotten more attention in the media. Maybe because the teacher is using simple things like whiteboards and bowling balls rather than shiny iPads and SmartBoards?

While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate "one-size-fits-all" education, his videos are exactly that. I tried finding Khan Academy videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher, but the physics ones aren't very good. They don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that are so fundamental to learning. Concept development is minimal, and he unknowingly plays into student misconceptions. His videos do not align with proper Physics Education Research. Teachers improve via reading up on pedagogy and getting feedback from mentors & students. Where is Sal's feedback? Where's the pedagogy?

The research that Khan chooses to ignore is summarized in this one book, now available as a free PDF: "How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom" http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10126

2 million unique students are viewing our videos every month by choice (as opposed to being forced to attend class by the state). Read any of the thousands comments on our YouTube or Facebook page and the underlying feedback from students is that they are finally getting the "why" at the Khan Academy as opposed to the "memorization-paint-by-numbers-what" in their classrooms. Do we think we're ideal? No, we're constantly using data and feedback to iterate on our content (and unlike traditional lectures and textbooks, we actually have data on usage and comprehension).

If you truly believe you have a far better way to teach physics, you really should let the world see how you do it. Make Youtube videos and point us to them. We're looking for other great teachers that are consistent with our mission and resonate with students.

Hi Sal,

Given some of the criticism of your YouTube videos, I agree with your simple advice: Let them make something better and let the viewers decide.

The Khan Academy does not have some kind of monopoly on providing education content to help people of any age learn. Rather, the Khan Academy was simply the first to resonate with so many people around the world in such a short period of time. You clearly have many people's attention.

The Internet is an open medium to provide content, and to those who think they can do better, they know that they don't need much to get something up, as has been made very clear with Sal and his use of a simple drawing tablet, screen recorder, and headset. So make it happen -- show how your content is vastly superior to Sal's that both educates and makes it fun. Oh yeah, and free.

Sal, as you have noted a few times now, you are actively looking for other people that posses your talents to educate people. Have you thought about creating an open competition on your site and let the public vote on what they think is good content and fits the "Khan Academy mold"? Just a thought :-).

Hi Sal,

I think torque2's point is that the way they teach physics cannot be encapsulated in a YouTube video. Physics teaching based on the last 20-years of PER requires engagement of prior conceptions and inquiry-based activities (to name a few key findings). This cannot be done in the type of teacher-centric videos you're giving. I'll admit that your lectures are awesome... but they're based on a learning traditional that has been proven to be ineffective relative to student-centric environments by a couple decades of education research.

I had a serious question that I hope you'll answer: "When you learn the physics required to make a video, do you just watch MIT lectures or do you go out and actively search for and build your own understanding of the concepts? Do you talk to other people about the ideas you have and what they think about the subject? In short, do you have a conversation with the material, or is the material hand-fed to you from a video?"

Thanks for all your hard work Sal, it definitely has a place in a learner's experience... it just might not be the place it's currently being touted as in the media.

And here is the problem: YOU ARE POPULAR.

And because something is popular doesn't mean it's good. Take modern music. A lot of popular singers attract crowds of people and make tons of money. But very often the music just sucks. And people forget these pop idols as fast as they make new ones.

Let me guess, smarty guys like just like you should dictate curricula and taste?

"2 million unique students are viewing our videos every month by choice"

Page hits isn't a very good metric if you're trying to get feedback about what viewers actually thought of the videos. A lot of people have heard of Khan Academy through the news or may land there via a search engine. How many of them watch the video all the way through? How many stick around and watch parts II, III, etc.? I could be totally wrong about this (please correct me if that is the case), but my suspicion is that YouTube's stats probably aren't sufficiently granular to distinguish between a page visit in which the viewer watches the video in its entirety (suggesting that the video was perceived as worthwhile) and a visit in which the viewer watches for a little while and then bails (indicating that it was not perceived as a valuable experience). User comments are subject to a great deal of self-selection bias. Viewers who thought the video was the best thing since sliced bread are way more likely to take the time to login (if already registered) or register and login (if not already a registered YouTuber) than those who thought it was a waste of time.

There's also a more fundamentally important question to consider: Did the viewer actually learn the material or were they simply duped into a false belief in their own competency? HN regularly features posts about interviewing techniques aimed at sorting out real programmers who can write code proficiently from people who simply possess a false belief that they are programmers. Sound pedagogical methods require some means of verifying that the student has, in fact, built a valid mental model of the subject matter and, of particular importance in the sciences, is capable of applying their knowledge to reason about novel situations. How do you know that your students actually understand the material? Do you have any way of distinguishing between students who have had a previous formal learning experience with the subject matter and are simply looking for a refresher course, students who are concurrently receiving other instruction (the teacher is using Khan Academy as a supplement), and students who have had no prior exposure to the material?

Wow. Here comes the bury brigade to crush my dissenting opinion without bothering to address anything that I said... How dare I criticize the sacred cow? How dare I challenge conventional wisdom? Conform, conform, conform. Everybody loves Khan Academy.

Well if you want to pay great teachers to produce science videos, I would start by offering this guy a lot of money.

Or at the very least, please watch the whole video because it explains one massive problem with video science lessons and how to partially fix the problem.


He shows someone video not produced by us. Then does a small interview of a handful of people who watched those non-Khan Academy videos. Then he uses their lack of understanding to impugn Khan Academy. The person who made this video clearly cares more about their agenda than real science.

The irony is also thick with him using a video to try to explain that videos can't explain things.

Wait ... what? Did you even watch the whole video?

First of all, he says all kinds of positive things about the work you're doing. "Impugn Khan Academy"? Really?

Second, he is explaining physics education research that he himself did for his Ph.D thesis. He's using examples from his own work to make comparisons in technique to what worked and what didn't work in his own, actually objectively tested research. This is not "a small interview of a handful of people".

Third, he's not saying videos can't explain things - he's saying that they often fail to make students question their own pre-existing misconceptions.

I hope you actually watch the whole video and catch the research context? I mean I am handing you a research-tested science education technique that you could easily incorporate into your own videos if you actually wanted.

Working for the Khan Academy, I've seen the link to this video a bunch of times. Naturally, I was really curious about the voracity of the claims, so I did some research. It's actually worth reading the thesis as it's pretty interesting stuff. It's here: http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/pdfs/research/super/PhD(Mulle...

The study was, as best I can tell after reading through much of it (a lot not relevant to this discussion), quite limited. The largest number of students considered for any of the experiments: 370. All from one school. Most of the other experiments included far fewer students (fewer than 100).

Chapter 9 (additional experiments in chapter 10), and the section on Participants and Design has most of the relevant information. I was particularly fascinated by the decision to remove students from the final result for "watching more than one multimedia treatment." I mean I understand why it's important to control for this, but part of the point of KA is to provide additional treatments of information.

I am not saying that this in any way invalidates the research, but I also don't think it's fair to say that this is somehow a surefire tested solution that is being handed over. In addition, because the research hasn't been repeated outside of the original setting -- at least I couldn't find it, please correct me here if I'm wrong -- it makes the claim that "because introducing misconceptions was effective in this study means it must be effective in all science videos" a pretty serious stretch.

I'm all for research. We're doing a lot of it right now with our pilot students/classrooms and existing users. But just because something has been research-tested doesn't mean it's automatically the right thing to implement for KA or its students.

Haha-- clearly this is an example of the ineffectiveness of videos. Khan's preconceived ideas have prevented him from learning what was presented!

On a more serious note, however, as a science educator, I appreciate the Khan Academy's work to make these very clear educational resources available to all. They definitely can be useful in many ways. Now if only my district would un-block YouTube...

However, I have to agree with many points Frank and others bring up. I have taught for 5 years--my first 4, I worked relentlessly to provide thorough and clear explanations for all the science concepts I taught. And I was baffled when I graded my final exams and found that my students learned little to nothing from 9 months of clear explanations and practice. Last summer, I learned about Modeling Physics (http://modeling.asu.edu/) and implemented it in my physics and chemistry classes this year. Now, my students have rocked their final exams and shown huge improvements from pre- to post-test on standardized instruments. This is simply my experience, but there really is significant physics education research which points to the same conclusions.

Educators are not trying to belittle or denigrate anyone. However, we have to protest when so many resources and media attention are being given to a method of instruction that has been shown to be rather ineffective, particularly in science, when incredible alternatives are available but are, unfortunately, largely being ignored and unfunded.

My goodness, I think you are missing the point entirely. Or perhaps you mean to. If you watch the video, he says that videos CAN be effective. You sound so defensive here, it's starting to make me doubt your sincerity.

Definitely interesting insight regarding how people can hold a particular perception and how those perceptions need to be addressed. And although the focus is on science, it can equally be applied to any subject: English, history, math, etc.

With respect to the Khan Academy, it would be interesting to see tools that provide a kind of interactive exchange of preconceived ideas and then helping to break them down. Having tests after the exchange would then help provide great metrics on the retention and understanding of the subject.

In any case, 1veritasium has at least provided an thoughtful response to the Khan Academy. He recognizes a good thing but provide some nice constructive criticism that could certainly improve what the Khan Academy already could offer. So as someone who enjoys Sal's videos, this idea gets a +1 from me... You know, as just some random person on the Internet ;-).

Hi Sal,

The whole point is not who can make better video lectures. The point is why lecture at all?

I wish the world would see my YouTube video about Modeling Physics (and resources) here: http://bit.ly/ModelingPhysics

I wish the world would see my 13 other videos showing Modeling Physics in action: http://vimeo.com/channels/modelingphysics

I wish the world would read my post on pseudoteaching: http://bit.ly/MITpseudoteaching

I wish the world would read my posts on standards-based grading, which allows my students to show growth and mastery in physics: http://bit.ly/SBGposts

One of my pseudoteaching posts talks about how forward thinking universities like MIT (your alma mater) are switching from lecture-based physics to a more interactive model like Modeling. The research on Modeling is there, please don't ignore it: http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling/Mod_Instr-effective.htm

More research --> The 3 key principles from "How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom" are:

#1. Engaging Prior Understandings - "If students’ preconceptions are not addressed directly, they often memorize content (e.g., formulas in physics), yet still use their experience-based preconceptions to act in the world.

#2. The Essential Role of Factual Knowledge and Conceptual Frameworks in Understanding - "What novices see as separate pieces of information, experts see as organized sets of ideas."

#3. The Importance of Self-Monitoring - "Appropriate kinds of self-monitoring and reflection have been demonstrated to support learning with understanding in a variety of areas. In one study,15 for example, students who were directed to engage in self-explanation as they solved mathematics problems developed deeper conceptual understanding than did students who solved those same problems but did not engage in self-explanation."

You can read the entire book for free: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10126

Modeling Physics does all 3. Your videos are 0 for 3. Badges do not count as "self-monitoring" in any meaningful sense.

You also have no hard data (as of yet) as to the effectiveness of your videos. Just anecdotal comments from students. You have no controlled studies. In fact, controlled studies show that video lectures are rather ineffective. See Derek Muller's video abstract and research: http://bit.ly/KhanEffectiveness

I'm not trying to be mean. I think your videos can be a resource for some teachers/students. But using video as the primary method for content delivery is ineffective.

We should not have to "flip" lectures and HW in order for students to be more interactive in class. When inquiry is done right, the interaction is already built in.

I'll stop there, before this gets too long.

Thanks for your time, Frank Noschese (aka torque2)

In fact, controlled studies show that video lectures are rather ineffective.

I would assume that studies comparing a competent physics teacher to a video instructor would show the former being more effective.

However, there is a shortage of competent physics instructors. There is a (possibly bigger) shortage of competent maths teachers. I am speaking from my more extreme experience in South Africa, where most of the teachers are abysmal. Expensive video-based instruction helped me achieve a respectable mark in physics/chemistry, most of my peers lacked that privilege and did very poorly. Even at university, things like differential equations, linear algebra and calculus were not particularly well taught - most professors are not really good at teaching, and in my case, they were teaching in a second language (Afrikaans speakers teaching English speaking students). The Khan Academy would have helped me even at the undergraduate level.

I have posted to HN in a related thread about video instruction in South Africa [ http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2351100 ]. People have been doing it for years here. I would recommend a controlled study in South Africa using KA, or The Learning Channel videos by William Smith (NOT run in an elite private school, but at an average township school) before we write off video based instruction as "ineffective".

People aren't going to see your videos because you have a bad attitude.

The Khan Academy has an interesting model, not necessarily for the videos themselves (which as far as I have seen are basically a modern version of videotaping a college lecture, albeit a well-explained lecture by an intelligent teacher) but more for the infrastructure built up to support the videos. I won't go into my views on lectures or flipping the classroom - others have already voiced my concerns on that front.

One item in particular that hasn't been much discussed here is the self-paced exercises. In here, students can try a problem, to see if they understand the content; and they keep trying until they get 10 in a row. The Khan Academy logs data about how many tries and how long it takes, so they have data on what they consider to be "mastery" (this may be an oversimplification...) There is also a certain game-play aspect which I think is kinda cool, and I like the map of linked concepts/exercise sets. As far as I see, they only have math problems up there as of now.

At face value, it looks like plug-and-chug, drill-and-kill methodology that irks any teacher of merit. But: there are opportunities to take this infrastructure and make it so much stronger ("formative" vs "summative").

Diagnoser.com is an example of an online exercise bank that includes aspects of several decades of physics education research (also some chem and life science) but the concept could be generalized for other disciplines as well. Each question includes "distractors" (wrong answers) that appeal to certain common misconceptions (what they call "facets" of understanding). If you get it right, great! you go on to another problem that might pose a similar question with a twist to challenge you. If you get it wrong, it recognizes from your answer what your misconception might be, gives you a quick mini-lesson to challenge your thinking on that, and gives you a related (though not the same) problem to see if you get it (for physics teachers: like an interactive FCI). The data is reported to the teacher, including right/wrong answers, and the "facets" that correspond to certain ideas and misconceptions. The teacher can see where their teaching (or in this case, Khan videos) have been effective, and where they could use more work (perhaps suggesting the student watch or review a particular video). NOTE: this is only one aspect of the Diagnoser Project's larger program, so I have taken it out of context, but it seems appropriate for this discussion.

This formative approach is effective especially for the conceptual problems, not just the plug-and-chug problems that I saw on the KhanAcademy.org site. Yes, this is much more difficult to program than "right/wrong, next!" problems, and requires research to write good facet-based "distractors" (take advantage of years or decades of education research out there!) but it (a) gets more useful data than just "right/wrong" and (b) allows students to act on their wrong answers immediately by challenging them to think about why it was wrong. I think incorporating something like this with Khan's gameplay/scoring/data collection methods would make the exercise feature much stronger.

> Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, teachers should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together.

What's curious about this critique is that it sounds almost exactly like what Khan advocates in his recent TED talk (here:http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_rein...)

In it, he advocates flipping the traditional school model of passive lecturing in the classroom, followed by problem solving during homework, and instead use videos like his to allow the students to view the lectures at home as homework and then spend their class time interactive with the teach and other students in active learning and problem solving.

I'm saying skip the lecture all together. It's not needed: http://bit.ly/ModelingPhysics

I think there are a few issues here. The issues seem to be assumptions that cause disagreements. 1 - the assumption that it is easily possible to use the best teaching methods on video. 2 - the assumption that it is not possible to use video as a good teaching tool. 3 - all feedback data is directly proportional and an accurate representation of student learning.

My take on the assumptions: 1- The best (and research proven - google physics education researcy) methods are not direct lecture (aka traditional lecture / sage on the stage etc...). The best methods involve a process commonly referred to as Interactive Engagement (IE). Using these methods, students interact with each other, the instructor, and the appropriate materials for the class. Me discussing things, working some samples, asking the students to work some samples... that is the traditional approach. It is only minimally effective at changing the way students think. There are 2 links below that go more fully into the interactive education approach (backed up by Physics Education Research - PER).

2 - The assumption that videos can't work is also problematic. They can be useful. However, if i create a video in which i: discuss things, work some samples, ask the students to work some samples... well, since that is only minimally effective when I am there and able to respond to questions, it is even less effective if I am not there and the student can only watch. If the video is made in a way that addresses common prior-conceptions, then you've got a shot at changing the way people think. However, it is not effective to simply state the common prior-conception is wrong. A common example, beginners think light bulbs use up current. The first bulb uses some, the next uses what’s left. Tell them that is not the case and they will parrot it back. When they test on it, or when it is phrased or needed in a different way, beginners go back to their initial conception. The approach of, “they just need to listen” doesn’t work. A common way in which we address prior conceptions (I think originated by McDermott at UW) is to show a couple of student reasoning examples that attempt to explain a phenomena. The current student chooses if student A, B, or neither is correct. Then that same prior-conception is hit over and over in a variety of ways in an effort to truly overcome the prior-conception and establish / replace / adjust it so that the student’s concept of what is going on agrees with the accepted evidence. Again, if I make a video of traditional teaching, it will (at best) be as bad as traditional teaching. Putting it on video doesn’t make it better. This would be, essentially video Cliff notes.

3 – Feedback… This can be messy. There have been an odd number of studies that check to see if student feedback is helpful. An MIT study showed that students gave very poor reviews to a new teaching method for E&M. These are MIT kids that should be pretty bright. Pretty self-aware of their learning (one would think). The overwhelming response on reviews of the new approach was that students preferred the more traditional course structure and felt they learned little. The results were that the students in the new course (that students didn’t rate highly) did significantly better than the students in the traditional course.

Two sources of information that will help a truly concerned person evaluate these ideas in more depth. <http://www.phys.washington.edu/groups/peg/rl.htm>; <http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...; The 2nd link is a cached copy.

Of course Khan lectures are not all encompassing just like his lecture on IPOs aren't but they provide a great deal of entry level knowledge.

If the author ever imagined that WW2 could be explained in one short Khan Academy video his expectations were wrong not Khan Academy itself.

Personally, I believe he is a spiteful fool afraid of a revolution in education.

Personally, I believe he is a spiteful fool afraid of a revolution in education

Please refrain from name-calling.

On one hand, you're rightly pointing out that one fifteen-minute video by one guy can never be an all-encompassing summary of thirty years of world history. And you're right.

But then you're talking about the Khan Academy as being some kind of "revolution" in education, even though the Khan academy still consists of fifteen-minute videos by one guy. This is the article's point -- there's some pretty serious limits to what we can expect out of a Khan-Academy sort of model. He's done a great job with introductory mathematics, but there's a crapload of work that would need to be done to make it an adequate source for other subjects.

My own thoughts on this issue along these same lines:


I think the conventional "educators" are feeling threatened because concise education in tolerable chunks is looking more attractive than toiling in lectures and massive tomes for hours over minor details. The Internet age has destroyed verbose teaching finally.

Facts are important. Details are for the interested.

David Clemens (the author of the article) should read the text books presented in American high schools.

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


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