Salman Khan’s One World Schoolhouse is a brief summary of mass education, where it’s been, and where it ought to go. It would be difficult to find a more comprehensive, big-picture, and revolutionary argument on the subject. Luckily, Khan is engaging, insightful, and hilarious in his writing, and so the ideas in this book are very accessible. Altogether, The One World Schoolhouse stands as a great monument in modern education theory and a testament to the wonders of the Internet.
The author frames his survey with the story of his own novel education system, the Khan Academy, which consists in 3,000+ YouTube videos aimed at self-guided instruction from kindergarten up through to college-level courses. This story is fascinating in itself and provides yet another example of a brilliant mind making the most of modern technology.
But the real crux of this book comes in the education theory. As an organic result of his stint in school and his foray into tutoring, Khan developed a view of education that is at once commonsensical and utterly revolutionary. It started with a few basic observations: The education system as it stands is broken, these breaks are pervasive and endemic, and our proposed solutions are only making things worse.
Anyone who has been through school recently can relate: Classes that strip relevance from the subject matter and bore students, overwhelmed teachers, and a system that slows the gifted and incentivizes delinquency. What Khan discovered is that the current system is set up based on an outdated and outmoded framework and remains almost wholly due to inertia.
His solutions are centered on technology and encourage the use of tutorials like those featured in his academy. Though he says that most are not new, this reader has not come across many of them. Two struck me as absolutely brilliant: Mastery Learning (ensuring 100% mastery of core concepts before moving on to the next subject) and flipping the school day (homework at school and lectures at home). These two alone, coupled with modern techne, constitute a revolution in education.
The reader will note that most of his writing is light and he doesn’t delve deeply into the admittedly murky concepts he touches on. One will pine for a more thorough understanding of the brain physiology of learning, the mechanics of testing, and the logistics of a school day. But, this book is not designed to get into all of that, and it doesn’t need to–it is magnificent as the high-level overview that it is. One will be thoroughly satisfied with having these ideas expressed at all, and even more so in such an engaging and entertaining way.
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