I had a crisis of faith last week. I had been riding high for some time over the use of my recorded lessons in my classroom. Basically, I was using a screen-grabbing app to record math lessons and posting them on YouTube so that I could curate my math class. I created a “Khan Academy lite” in my classroom, geared to my student’s needs. It worked great and my students have been responding very well in math since adopting this new program.
But then something happened. I heard that several local politicians were embracing the Khan Academy and sites like it as something “new” and “innovative.” Great, I thought, I love the Khan Academy! My students use it all the time to brush up on math, or get the help that their parents don’t have time to give. But it turned out they weren’t promoting Khan Academy because it’s a great tool; they were promoting it because they felt that, with such great resources available for free online, why were they paying teachers so much money?
Here was my dilemma. If I make my lessons available for free online, am I diluting the value of my instruction a product? Are teachers who share their instruction and lesson plans online putting themselves out of a job? I had to think really hard about it and I came to this conclusion: Heck, no.
Even though I can buy the album or listen to it on the radio, I won’t stop going to concerts. Even though Shakespeare is public domain, people don’t stop paying to see his plays or think that an audiobook can replace a performance. Canned tomatoes, while handy, don’t replace the real thing—if anything, they make you appreciate the real thing more.
Khan Academy and similar sites are not the end of education as some other educator-blogs would have you believe. Khan himself writes that his site is not a curriculum; he is simply offering another way to teach children, one that is realistic and pragmatic. He does not abstractly teach ‘why.’ Instead, he focuses on the ‘how’ of actually solving math problems and succeeding in math. Frankly, many students (including myself when I was a kid) were frustrated by the constructivist approach of ‘finding a way that works for you’ and would rather just skip to practicing the method that works every time.
Many make the argument that Khan is not a teacher and is not qualified to teach children. That just rubs me the wrong way. What I do is not special; anyone can teach, just like anyone can cook, work on a car, or learn to play guitar. But not everyone is brave enough to try and willing to put the work into doing it well. To me, Khan Academy is no different than a student getting help from mom and dad, who are often not certified teachers, and educators don’t turn up our noses at that.
I will continue to post my lessons, because it helps me become a better teacher. I like to think that if more people see my teaching, it will help them see the value in what I do. I want parents at home to watch the lessons with their kids and think, “Wow, my kid get to have him in person.” Like so many other times in my life when I have felt doubt and am forced to confront it, I end up only more sure that I am in the right place, doing the right thing.