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But the real revolution has been in the classroom. Last year, Los Altos, Calif., decided to use the Khan Academy videos and software in its public-school classrooms. Doing so turns the educational model on its head. In the traditional method, students sit in class and receive information from their teacher while they busily take notes--a passive process that wastes valuable classroom time. They do the most challenging work--solving problems--at home without help. Under the new system, they watch the Khan Academy videos at home and solve problems in class, where the teacher's talents can be put to use most fruitfully. In addition, students can learn at their own pace--rewatching videos--until they actually understand the material. The early results show huge leaps in student skills. Technology is being used to create a customized, interactive education that is both novel and powerful.
The reason that I am so taken by the Khan Academy--other than that I have used its videos with my 12-year-old son--is that it is a quintessentially American innovation, a new way of thinking about education.
I went through the Asian educational system, which is now so admired. It gave me an impressive base of knowledge and taught me how to study hard and fast. But when I got to the U.S. for college, I found that it had not trained me that well to think. American education at its best teaches you how to solve problems, truly understand the material, question authority, think for yourself and be creative. It teaches you to learn what you love and to love learning. These are incredibly important values, and they are why the U.S. has been able to maintain an edge in creative industries and innovation in general.
The U.S. should truly fix its educational system by emphasizing the basics--like hard work--again but also by renewing its distinctly American character. We will succeed not by becoming more Asian but by becoming, as the writer James Fallows put it once, "more like us." That's what made America the world's most dynamic society--and it can make it so again.
Watch Fareed Zakaria's CNN special, Restoring the American Dream: Fixing Education, Sunday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET