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.

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  • Cottonelle Zhou

    Honestly, those critics are being too harsh. It would be different if Sal was doing it for money, but when it free, you shouldn't scrutinize over the accuracy too much. In fact, I'm a khan academy use and it has helped my grades improve a lot. The critics are being too nasty and severe in my opinion and I feel sorry for Sal who is doing his best to teach children for free and is getting nasty comments like "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?" in return. It's a shame on those critics really.

  • Victoria

    They say the same thing about homeschoolers. How dare they teach their own children! How dare they teach children for FREE, when they could pay me $100,000 for the same service! These unionized brats are more annoying than a math video lesson.

  • Dr. G.

    What is, sadly, the case in many classrooms is that young people struggle with math essentials. Yes, they need experience and practice in these skills and simply presenting document-based answers to questions does not well illustrate the processes undertaken to solve a problem. I agree that Salman does ramble, and more than a bit. I regularly source video lessons from a wider range of sources and share these with struggling learners. There is only one of me to go around so I need to clone myself, yes, I've cut video tutorials for my students. As Salman says, online we can be infinitely patient. I appreciate some of the commentary about instrumental (rules without reason) understanding that is being shared and demonstrated and lament the lack of relational (deep and rich) understanding that is needed to move our world forward. I deplore attempts by the "credentialists" who claim that Salman is unqualified to teach the topics in his video tutorials. What utter nonsense -- there are many sources of learning and none should be excluded. We as "qualified teachers" may cherry-pick recommended video tutorials to aid in achieving specific learning goals, or, our (motivated) students might. Dr. G.

  • Jeff White

    It's not that Salman Khan himself is going to become everybody's video instructor. The reason Khan Academy is being hailed is because its concept is turning education on its head. Someone said if you don't like Khan's videos, make your own. Exactly. The strength behind these videos is that it uses a medium students are used to go provide introductory instruction; class time and the teachers' expertise can then be used to help them work through more complex problems. Our current model of math teaching tends to do it the other way around, which causes frustration and problems in the classroom.

  • Liam

    Production values here are poor, you can hardly make out what the commentators are saying,
    much like a lot of classes / lectures I have attended.
    The video being discussed contains too many omissions and inaccuracies in an attempt to simplify content, much like many secondary(high school) and primary(elementary) classes and lessons I have attended.

  • Dan

     Don’t the videos focus too much on mechanical process over big-picture concepts? And what’s up with the one-take, unrehearsed style?" 

    ^ Sounds a lot like the classes I attend...

  • Alex Cusack

    Interesting contrasts in responses between Khan Academy and teachers. 

    Teachers opposed to Khan's methods made a video mocking him, opposed to implementing his valuable ideas to improve their methods. 

    Khan took their mockery as constructive criticism and worked to correct the errors and improve his own methods. 

  • rance

    I second this comment.  I don't understand these "professional" teachers engaging in such juvenile behavior.  I am embarrassed for them.

  • Guest

    What a childish, petty video.  If you don't like the teaching methods, then offer something better.  Complaining doesn't solve anything.  If your teaching methods are so good why do millions of students have to resort to Kahn Academy to fill in the gaps in their education?

    The world is full of people who like to point out errors, and claim they can do things better, but few have the balls to step up to the plate and do something about it.  

    It's sad that our teachers reaction to an exciting new teaching medium is to mock it, and not use it to improve their abilities.

  • rance

     They don't think there is anything wrong with their abilities.  It's the student's fault, the parents fault, the "high stakes testing" (which no one has lost their job over, so I don't know why they keep calling it "high stakes") fault.  It is everyone else fault kids don't know math.  But I agree with you, if they were successfully doing their job, Khan Academy wouldn't exist.  Apparently, people want to learn math or they wouldn't be using KA.

  • jgodse


    The sad truth of the internet is that credentials and credibility are no longer exclusively conferred by universities and professional societies (e.g. Teachers Colleges and Teachers' Unions). You just have to do something good work, and your audience as a whole are your credentials. Sal Khan gets that. He is also an incredibly fast learner.