Math Teachers Strike Back At Khan Academy With Hilarious “Mystery Science Theater 3000” Commentary

Tired of hearing about how Sal Khan will Change. Education. Forever. some math teachers produce their own take on his videos.

Since debuting short videos to tutor his young cousins on YouTube in 2005, Sal Khan has been lauded as a Most Creative Person in Business, acclaimed by Bill Gates from the stage at TED, and received millions of dollars from Gates, John Doerr, and others to build the nonprofit Khan Academy. His learning website today boasts 3,200 short instructional videos on a vast range of subjects, an adaptive learning platform with gamelike features, and 169 million views. The videos are being placed front and center in public school classrooms.


Now the Khan hype cycle appears to have reached the “backlash” stage. Some people, especially teachers, are getting really sick of hearing about how those videos are going to change education forever. In the past few months, I’ve heard the same critiques from several people in the ed-tech field, dropped into an otherwise unrelated conversation: How can a former hedge-fund analyst have the gall to think he’s qualified to personally teach everything from theoretical physics to art history? Don’t the videos focus too much on mechanical process over big-picture concepts? And what’s up with the one-take, unrehearsed style?

Some very clever math teachers, John Golden and David Coffey, turned their concerns into parody. They uploaded a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary of one of Khan’s lessons, on positive and negative numbers, poking fun at some at some errors in both mathematics and pedagogical style.

In response, two ed-tech bloggers, Justin Reich and Dan Meyer, started a contest for the best video critique of a Khan Academy video.

While it may look like summer school homework, this is a fantastic development for anyone who cares about the future of education. First of all, Khan is responding to the critiques and improving specific videos, as his critics acknowledge; and they hope an outcome of the contest will be to help teachers be better users of Khan. Second, this is an example of teachers holding an important public conversation about priorities and approaches in teaching style using the same technology and platform–free online video–that Khan Academy uses to such effect. These ain’t your grandpa’s math teachers.


About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation.