David R. Henderson  

King Khan

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I second Arnold's recommendation of the Khan video. Some highlights:

4:47: These videos help even an autistic kid. Wow!
5:10: "Here I was, an analyst at a hedge fund; it was very strange for me to do something of social value." Oh, well, so he doesn't get Adam Smith.
6:15 to 7:30: How teachers are using it in the classroom. Good for them. It does raise the issue, though, of whether we need the teachers. That could save a lot of money. This segment reminded me of the most impressive high school I ever visited: the Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon. I sent ahead three or four chapters of my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey, and the discussion showed that the majority of them had read the chapters carefully. It was probably one of the five most fun talks I've given in my life. (Not counting my classes, I've given about 200 talks.) Before my talk, they gave me a tour of the school. There were are no classes in the usual sense, just students sitting working on their work with the teachers wandering around as consultants. If my fellow economists ever get a chance to speak there, I recommend accepting. Don't let the fact that it is a Scientology school freak you out as it did me when I first heard that.
9:00: Learn math the way you learn how to ride a bicycle.
12:20: Students helping each other. He doesn't say this, but this is one reason one-room schoolhouses worked so well.
16:15: "A global one-world classroom."

My musings:
1. Khan's style, humor, and smile remind me of Tom Sowell at his peak.
2. I wonder to what extent I can, using this method, teach microeconomics to my MBA students. Thoughts anyone?

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (15 to date)
Brian Puj writes:

You can understand Adam Smith and still think that Hedge Funds have dubious social value. We've come to the point where capital allocation isn't the only way hedge funds make money. Rent seeking is a very big part of many strategies.

Chris writes:

I came here to say exactly what Brian just said.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Brian Puj and Chris,
You're both right. You can understand Smith and still think that hedge funds have dubious social value. The question is "Which hedge fund was he working for and what did he and they do?" I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that if he had helped his hedge fund make a billion dollars, he would regard that as prima facie evidence that the hedge fund did not create net social value. I would love to be proven wrong.

John writes:

The comment that I thought most revealing was his point about how the current educational system promotes students versus the one employed in their tutorials. If we keep promoting students that only get 80% of what's needed to understand the next level, no wonder they eventually fail.

I think there's a great model here for taking to the public educational system. We need to get away from largely age based grade levels.

Ricardo Cruz writes:

Prof Henderson writes: "Oh, well, so he doesn't get Adam Smith."

As someone who has benefited from his videos, as of a couple of years of ago, I have been following Sal public appearances. I never heard him downplaying his Hedge Fund job before (though Bill Gates has). I think it was just a tongue in cheek remark, given how left-wing the TED audience is.

mdc writes:

"It does raise the issue, though, of whether we need the teachers."

Complete agreement here - I got the impression he was deliberately not pushing this angle so as not to frighten the horses, but still, it was pretty clear that with world-wide inter-student tutoring that he was touching on right at the end, even the more limited role for schools he presented earlier pretty much disappears.

At the very least on a marginal cost basis, how much value can conventional teachers really add over that that justifies their tremendous cost?

I really doubt it'll happen soon because the special interests are so entrenched, but I think this is the car to the conventional school's horse.

Jc writes:

Going through the contemporary economics podcasts right now. Anyone have any comments on his inflation/deflation explaination video?

Mike writes:

I work in admissions for an MBA program.

I point out stuff like the Khan video to my coworkers as evidence of how our school needs to adapt or we will disappear.

I like his problems sets. It would be a lot of work on your part, but to have problem sets the students could solve to prove mastery of a concept as opposed to a multi choice exam would be terrific. (I don't think badges will be a big motivator for students at the NPS.)

You probably already expect an MBA student to read the relevant chapters of the text before the lecture. If you were to tape your lectures, the classroom time could be given over to more free wheeling discussion and questions about the problems sets. It would, I think, make for a very enjoyable class.

You don't have to put them up on youtube. I bet your school has some other delivery system available.

The one thing he said that jumped out at me: he said Khan Academy is a not-for-profit. If it were my organization I woud have set it up to be for-profit. Ultimately, our broken public education system will be smashed, I believe, by a profit seeking entity.

I also believe the typical MBA program will be provided at much less cost than today by a profit seeking entity.

(Before anybody cites current for profit schools as an example of me being incorrect, I would like to point out that these for-profit schools are set up to milk the financial aid system, not provided quality education at a low price.)

Dewey Munson writes:

Just think - a world full of hedge fund operators.

No one to plant corn or run milling machines or build threshers.

No one to operate grocery stores.

But - - - - we'll all be equal.

Foobarista writes:

I wonder how many principals or teacher union bigwigs will start shouting random Star Trek 2 quotes?


Daniel writes:


As Ricardo Cruz pointed out, the line about hedge funds seemed like it was a joke, and the audience treated it as such. With all the piling on that's going on against Wall Street, I'm not sure it's a joke I would have made, but it was a joke nonetheless.

Furthermore, I fail to see why you or mdc thinks that this makes teachers obsolete, as there is nothing in the video to suggest that and several points that contradict it:

1) He indicates that the teaching time freed up would be spent doing more real-world applications (i.e., once you know how to use a mountains shadow to calculate it's height, going out to a local mountain and doing it)

2) He openly accepts the idea that some subjects can't be taught this this (try it on PE or music and I predict failure...try in on a foreign language, and I'll guess on the same result often, Rosetta Stone or no)

To me, the real issue is whether what the teacher does with actual teaching time has higher marginal value or lower marginal value than do the basic stuff which is now being done by the computer.

David R. Henderson writes:

I didn't take the audience reaction on the hedge fund the way you took it.

Jonathan Goff writes:

Arnold, David,

Thanks for the link, that was fascinating!


David Friedman writes:

The question that strikes me is what is the advantage of a video over a book? Compared to a lecture, they both have the same advantages--the student can do it at his convenience and his own pace. A computer program can do things a book can't--I've written such programs. But how does a video do anything a book can't? It's cheaper to distribute than a printed book--but the book could be a webbed eBook.

This goes along with an old puzzle of mine--why the mass lecture, with almost no interaction, survived the invention of the printing press.

David Friedman writes:

On the subject of hedge funds...

As I expect most of you know, Hirschleifer long ago pointed out that while speculation is both socially useful and profitable, the two are not linked--unlike the usual market pattern. You can have speculation that is very profitable and of almost no social value.

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