Snarky criticism sure is easer than offering solutions

This has become a big story over the past few days. Let me try to summarise things somewhat before getting to my own opinions on the matter.

It all began when two teachers, John Golden and Dave Coffey, created a snarky video critique (reminiscent of MST3K) of a lesson on Khan Academy:

The story up to this point was covered quite nicely by Slate. Soon after, Salman Khan responded to the critique and redid the video lesson under question.

In the interim, the original critique video had gone viral and spawned the Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 (MTT2K) contest. This was an opportunity for others to point out pedagogical and factual errors in the lessons on Khan Academy through the creation of snarky videos of their own:

Teachers who didn’t create videos started to pile on with critical blog posts. News outfits eager for clicks started publishing pieces alternatively critical and defensive of Khan Academy. The Washington Post has been particularly determined not to let this story die. This controversy has reached such a fever pitch that the discussion has now spilled over into other communities such as Slashdot.

And that’s the story so far.

Now here’s my take on the matter, directed toward the teachers:

  1. Much of the mathematics curriculum for young kids is procedural. There is more procedure than deep concepts for topics like arithmetic. Stop complaining that “all Khan Academy focuses on is mechanics without deep understanding.”
  2. Don’t forget that different people learn differently. Some people prefer being exposed to the abstract concept first while others like specific examples before moving towards generality. Just because you don’t learn a certain way doesn’t mean that the material is useless to all students.
  3. Sometimes precision is important, sometimes hand-waviness is exactly what is needed to make a point. Stop complaining about the lack of precision before considering the context.
  4. Once you make it past these first three points, I think it is a good idea to critique lessons with the aim to improve their quality. But there is no need to be snarky about it.
  5. If possible, see what you can do beyond critiquing things. How about recording more accurate versions of the content you find so offensive and actually help out?

Snarky criticism sure is easer than offering actual solutions.