Does Michael Jordan Make You Insecure?

Last week’s TIME magazine, dated July 9, 2012, has a multi-page article on Salman Khan and Khan Academy. Our family has used Khan Academy videos to supplement school work for over a year. As Khan Academy has expanded their offerings to include more subjects, exercises, and tracking we have played with the idea of using Khan Academy as the primary material for some subjects.

The entire idea of letting kids learn at their own pace seems to still be controversial. I’m not sure why this is. We as a nation have a huge hangup about difference in academic potential that we do not have when it comes to sports. In sports we love the stand-out players and eagerly pour extra time and resources into those players that we think have the potential to be great. We never worry about whether by helping one athlete succeed we are forcing another to fail. In fact, we frequently feel that having a star player on a team working to their full potential inspires the other players to work harder and reach a higher level than they would otherwise.

American education however, is treated too often as a zero sum game. We feel that resources are so limited that by helping one group of students succeed, especially if they are exceptionally bright, we short-change another group. The TIME magazine article, when addressing the reluctance of educators to let students learn each at their own pace states that, “In the worst case scenario, high-achieving students race ahead while low performers languish.”

How is this a worst case scenario? The sports equivalent would be, “The best high school players of high school “X” all receive full college sports scholarships while the worst players become fat and unhealthy.”  If that happened we would never view it as a worst case scenario. We would applaud and complement the school on the high achievements of their best players and perhaps investigate how we could better server the lower level players.

The article also states that some educators see a risk in letting kids work at their own pace. The risk is, “that two students will reach graduation with very different skill sets. One may have mastered everything from calculus on down while the other made it only as far as algebra.” What exactly do they think is happening now? What do they think is the real harm in some kids knowing calculus and others only algebra? In college and in life people have different interests and bodies of knowledge. If people love what they do, they can achieve success in nearly any occupation. We all know folks without college degrees that are more financially success than some with college degrees. Our country needs to be concerned with equality and fairness in opportunities and stop feeling so insecure about the fact that some of us are more intellectual than others of us.

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