3 min read

Brave New Words

Brave New Words

Twelve years after his first book, Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy, publishes Brave New Words: How AI Will Revolutionize Education (and Why That's a Good Thing). I was influenced by Khan Academy and Sal's TED talk in 2011. At the time I was an assistant principal of a public high school in Manhattan. I went as far as implementing my own version of a flipped classroom teaching AP US history and other subjects.

In his new book, Sal describes how Khan Academy got early access to ChatGPT. OpenAI was looking to showcase positive use cases of the now ubiquitous technology. With this early access and Sal's vision of personalized learning, the Khan Academy team built Khanmigo, a learner-focused ChatGPT wrapper.

In Brave New Words, Sal documents example chats that show how Khanmigo works. The tool uses what it knows about the student's interests and a socratic questioning approach to take on the role of a tutor.

The world is better for having Khanmigo, which as of this writing is $4 - a fifth of what OpenAI charges for ChatGPT - per month. Worse case, this is a less expensive ChatGPT client with a lot of guardrails for young learners.

I find the best case that Sal writes about less compelling. The Khan academy model rests on the notion that an individual with sufficient motivation should have access to world-class learning opportunities. But, relying on an individual's motivation is reactionary. The default should be a great education. We do not reserve air for the highly motivated. Everyone gets to breath.

Sal would not argue that Khan Academy has solved eduction or inequality. He'd probably agree that many of the problems in education arise from problems of scarcity.

In the United states we have many heroic teachers. But, we do not have a teaching system that can produce consistent, high quality results. Under the surface peak performance in schools and school systems seems to always be temporary in the public sector or the result of consistent high-investment in the case of private schools.

The story of Khan Academy begins with Sal as a young man offering tutoring lessons to his cousins. His family has education as a core value. It's easy to draw the lines connecting Sal's biography, his family history, and the motivation dependency that underlies his educational vision.

Sal also had the brilliant idea of using the web to scale his vision. This idea picked up support of the global elites you'd expect. The Khan Academy board page has at least four billionaire portraits that I recognize from a thirty second scan.

We have a talented story teller: Sal Khan. We have a compelling story: individualized education for every student. We have a new technology in the form of AI that promises to make this compelling story even more of a reality.

We also have a boardroom of billionaires. We have a non profit that makes these billionaires feel good about themselves. Their participation in the education non profit industry allows them to rationalize and justify all the lucky market anomalies and accidents of fate that brought them unimaginable material wealth.

I'm wise. I deserve it. I earned this. All of it. Behold my beneficence.

I support Sal Khan. I worry that Khan Academy is a salve for the rich and powerful. It clears their consciouses. It frees them from considering what it would take for all kids to have access to high quality educations. Such considerations might lead to uncomfortable thoughts for the elites.

Am I that wise? Do I deserve it? Did I actually earn this? Any of it?

Education is not getting solved by a ChatGPT wrapper. Education will be solved by the succulent flesh of billionaire elites, or barring that option, the wealthy paying their share.