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Review: The One World Schoolhouse, by Salman Khan

From The Objective Standard, Vol. 7, No. 4.

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, by Salman Khan. New York: Twelve, 2012. 272 pp. $26.99 (hardcover).


In 2009, Salman Khan quit his job as a hedge fund analyst in order to devote time to Khan Academy—a grand name, explains Khan, for an entity with meager resources:

The Academy owned a PC, $20 worth of screen capture software, and an $80 pen tablet; graphs and equations were drawn—often shakily—with the help of a free program called Microsoft Paint. Beyond the videos, I had hacked together some quizzing software running on my $50-per-month web host. The faculty, engineering team, support staff, and administration consisted of exactly one person: me. The budget consisted of my savings. I spent most of my days in a $6 T-shirt and sweatpants, talking to a computer monitor and daring to dream big. (p. 5)

Khan’s dream was big. His mission was to “provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere” (p. 5). And this, in part, is how he planned to provide it:

My basic philosophy of teaching was straightforward and deeply personal. I wanted to teach the way I wished that I myself had been taught. Which is to say, I hoped to convey the sheer joy of learning, the thrill of understanding things about the universe. I wanted to pass along to students not only the logic but the beauty of math and science. Furthermore, I wanted to do this in a way that would be equally helpful to kids studying a subject for the first time and for adults who wanted to refresh their knowledge; for students grappling with homework and for older people hoping to keep their minds active and supple.

What I didn’t want was the dreary process that sometimes went on in classrooms—rote memorization and plug-in formulas aimed at nothing more lasting or meaningful than a good grade on the next exam. Rather, I hoped to help students see the connections, the progression, between one lesson and the next: to hone their intuitions so that mere information, absorbed one concept at time, could develop into true mastery of a subject. In a word, I wanted to restore the excitement—the active participation in learning and the natural high that went with it—that conventional curricula sometimes seemed to bludgeon into submission. (p. 6)

At the start, Khan says, he worked with just one student, his cousin Nadia. However, his approach to education and his method of delivering it via videos became extremely popular in short order. . . .

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