For a relatively short-256 pages-book, this was packed full of excellent information, much like the fantastic website that the author founded. If you don’t know anything about Khan Academy, I would urge you to check them out immediately! They provide lessons on a wide variety of subjects, including math from kindergarten to college, and practice sessions to reinforce learning. We personally use the math lessons to supplement our curriculum, and my kids love it. It’s all totally free, and the site is super easy to navigate.
In The One World Schoolhouse, Khan describes how he grew from tutoring his niece, to making YouTube videos in a closet, to running a site that is used by millions of people-students, teachers, parents, homeschoolers-and what he learned along the way. He presents an ambitious idea, that every person in the world should, and can, have access to an amazing education. His mission statement is simple: Provide a free, world class education for anyone, anywhere. In fact, he states simply that “we can no longer afford for only some part of the world’s population to be deeply educated.” (pg 7)
Khan writes the book like he is sitting down with you, telling his story over coffee. The book starts off with his realization about the many gaps in the current educational model, and progresses through a series of arguments about how the way most schools operate is outdated and detrimental to kids. He points out that most classrooms pass children who score 75-80% on tests-yet for that child to move on, not understanding 20-25% of the previous information, can be a death sentence for their educational future. How can a kid be expected to learn new stuff, building on old stuff, when they didn’t understand the stuff to begin with? How can they build an education when 25% of their blocks at each level is missing?
Kahn refers to this as “Swiss Cheese Learning”, and shows how this problem continues to affect adults throughout their entire life. He includes an short personal experience from his day job as a hedge fund analyst: in an interaction with a CFO, the well educated professional did not understand how Khan could have figured out a certain company expenditure. Khan pointed out that the information was public knowledge-explaining that the base numbers were included in readily available files. The CFO had not considered applying basic algebra to everyday life, a problem that plagues many who studied only to pass a test.
There is also a big section of the book about lifelong learning. As is pointed out, many jobs that people are making a living off of currently-social media, blogging, pretty much anything related to computers-were unheard of 30 years ago. We need to teach our children to adapt, and to be able to do that they need to continue to learn and grow throughout life. Personally, I have benefited from the courses that Khan Academy provides courses in art, health, and economics. Being able to use courses for myself from the same place that provides lessons for my first and second graders is a unique feature to Khan Academy.
I’m a homeschool mom, a homeschool graduate myself, and a user of Khan Academy, so this book was extremely interesting to me. I have long believed that while the current school system has many good points, it also has a lot of drawbacks. I’m not against public schools by any means, even though we homeschool. However, many of the things that are touched on in this book, such as standardized testing, moving kids along when they weren’t ready, and teaching to test instead of teaching to learn, are all things that I have commented on in the past as reasons why we choose to homeschool our children.
Anyone interested in education, whether they be a parent of a school age child, a student themselves, or a teacher, should consider reading this book and checking out the Khan Academy site. The book could read like one long ad for the site, but it never does. Khan uses his platform in writing this book to outline his vision for better education, and his practical ideas for achieving that vision. A definite must read.