The Khan-Do Attitude

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

-Samuel Coleridge, Kubla Khan

Last week a colleague mentioned the Khan Academy in passing, and when I asked he gave me a brief history.  The founder, Salman Khan, first began posting videos on YouTube in order to help a cousin with her math homework.  Word got around, and to make a long story short, he now has a collection of over 2000 teaching videos in math, science, finance and even history (his degrees are in math, electrical engineering, computer science and business, from MIT and Harvard.)

The videos are simple and easy to follow: he addresses one concept at a time uses a black screen as his blackboard, explaining as he goes. What's amazing is how smoothly he can break down any problem to its elemental question, and then answer the question, using everyday language and a handful of colored "pens."  Here's an example of the liar / truthteller brain teaser you might encounter in the Enrichment section of a math textbook, or on a Mensa test.

Looking at the impact his videos have already made (39 million views; thousands of grateful students), his mission (to cover "everything"), and the publicity he's received for what is largely a philanthropic effort (endorsements from Bill Gates, CNN News, and a host of others), it seems entirely possible that, like his ancient ancestor, Salman Khan may someday rule the world.  But instead of a "stately pleasure-dome," he will build a tower of knowledge, ever-expanding to meet the needs of his curious and grateful populace.

I have to say, that's the kind of world in which I'd be happy to live.