Lectures at Home, Homework at School

More wisdom from Sal Kahn (of the Kahn Academy):

…it makes more sense to have students watch lectures at home and do homework at school as opposed to vice versa.

So true! And revealing of larger structural problems of school.


Robin Hanson's theory of school is that it isn’t about learning material but rather "learning to accept workplace domination and ranking, and tolerating long hours of doing boring stuff exactly when and how you are told." He links to three other possible functions of school:

  • Legitimization: Repeated contacts with the educational system, which seems impersonal and based on reliable criteria, convinces students (and their parents) that they are ending up in an appropriate place in society based on their skills and abilities. Thus, people accept their position in life: they become resigned to it, maybe even considering it appropriate or fair.
  • Acclimatization: The social relationships in the schools encourage certain traits, appropriate to one’s expected economic position, while discouraging others. Thus, certain relationships are considered normal and appropriate. Subordination to authority is a dominant trait enforced for most students.
  • Stratification: Students from different class backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and genders are overwhelmingly exposed to different environments and social relationships and thus are tracked and prepared for different positions in the hierarchy. The different experiences and successes lead each student to see her place as appropriate.
6 comments on “Lectures at Home, Homework at School
  • So many problems with school, most of which it took me decades to understand b/c I was fortunate enough to attend extraordinary schools with (mainly) outstanding teachers, and b/c I’m wired for school-as-it-stands-now. (Whether that is fortunate or unfortunate is the Chinese Farmer Story come to life.)

    I’m unfamiliar with Hanson, but for those of us with more of a story bent, I heartily recommend Derrick Jensen’s book on the subject, Walking on Water. Very engaging, wisdom born of experience (peripatetic education himself, then years teaching in a range of classrooms, including hostile ones), rigorous and respectable bibliography/sources.

  • Absolutely. Students should do homework at school and watch lectures at home, I agree. What about for post-secondary education? Would this concept also work at the college level?

    On acclimatization: We should be teaching students to question authority not be subordinate to it.

  • Kahn is right, and the evidence is that this is effectively how it works at the university level. Lectures in large classes provide only a marginally different experience from watching one on a computer screen. Meanwhile, these same classes have smaller recitations sessions where students ask questions, discuss their assignments, go over things in more depth, and effectively “do their homework at school.”

  • Completely agree. Our education system unfortunately is more geared towards memorizing a textbook and/or taking a standardized test, rather than learning actual knowledge (history, literature etc) that is inspiring and relatable. It’s such a shame!

  • Oh, for the love of God, do you mind spelling KHAN right? I didn’t want to be the spelling police for the previous post, but really, it’s spelled correctly right there in the URL. It’s even spelled correctly in the quote you’ve included in the previous post. Please respect ethnic names enough to get them right.

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