Return to Transcripts main page


The World is His Classroom; The Power of Paper and Glue; Imagine a World

Aired August 27, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to a special edition of our program, where we take a look at some of the stories and conversations that we had this year, ones that we thought were worth sharing with you again, including some new developments.

Tonight, the stories of an artist and educator, empowering people in every corner of the globe. In a moment, you'll meet a street artist from Paris behind amazing photography exhibits that are posted by hundreds of thousands of people in more than 100 countries.

But first, a man who's trying to educate the entire world for free.

It all started in 2004, when financial analyst Salman Khan posted some tutorials on YouTube to help his cousin, who was struggling with math.

About 10 years later, his teachings have become known as the Khan Academy, a website with more than 4,000 lessons on subjects that range from basic math to economics to art history.

Six million people visit the site each month and it doesn't stop there. Khan told me that he wants to reinvent the very way children learn in classrooms around the world. He joined me in the studio to explain just how.


AMANPOUR: Salman Khan, thank you for coming to the studio.


AMANPOUR: So a very young man, 35 years old, hedge funder who turned into now an online teacher. How did this happen?

KHAN: It was -- I was an analyst at a hedge fund in 2004. One of my cousins was having trouble with math. She was in New Orleans; I was in Boston, so I started tutoring her remotely. Word got around in the family that free tutoring was happening, so by 2006, I was tutoring about 10-15 cousins and family members every day after work. I still had my day job.

And one of my friends said, well, to help you scale up a little bit, why don't you put some lessons on YouTube?

And I thought, you know, horrible idea; YouTube is for cats playing piano. It's not for --


AMANPOUR: Like a joke?


KHAN: Yes. But I gave it a shot and it was soon clear that people who were not my cousins were watching the videos and that kept growing and growing and growing. And then by 2008-2009, felt like there's an opportunity to create a new type of institution, so set it up as a charity, a not-for-profit, and.

AMANPOUR: You say a new kind of institution. From what I gather, this is about revolutionizing the way people are taught, revolutionizing education.

How? And why does it need it?

KHAN: Yes. You know, our model of education has never been questioned. All of the debate is how do we optimize it. But our model is one that we inherited from Prussia 200 years ago, and Prussia does not exist anymore. So it's time to rethink it.

And it's this very industrial revolution model of we group students in these age-based cohorts; they go together at a set pace; you have these stations, which are these classes and these subjects, where you try to apply some information. Some students it sticks; some students it doesn't. That's the better product; that's the worst product. You evaluate them.

And what's becoming more and more clear is that pretty much ensures most students will end up with severe gaps in their knowledge. You get a C on an exam, the system -- internationally -- the system pushes you to the next subject even though they haven't identified those gaps.

And they accumulate by the time you get to algebra, calculus; you have so many that even if you're innately smart and you have a great teacher, you have trouble engaging in class.

AMANPOUR: You've coined a term, which I think -- it's flipping the classroom or flipping.

KHAN: Yes, so this -- it's actually a term that other teachers came to me with. And it's this general idea that traditional classrooms are lecture- based. Teacher talks at the front; students are all pointed at the desk. And they passively listen and they take notes. There's very little interaction.

Every now and then there might be a question from some of the braver students. What a lot of these teachers started saying is there are these interesting lectures on YouTube and on Khan Academy now.

Why don't I let students use -- watch those at their own time and pace and then they can pause and repeat if they get stuck; they can look up a term. They can look up a more basic concept and not be afraid or shy that they have to cover that thing.

And then when they go to class, instead of it being lecture-based, it could be problem-solving. It could be what used to be homework and you used to do it at home and no one was there to help you. You can now do it in the classroom and you have the teacher to help you and you have your peers to help you.

AMANPOUR: Because you know, obviously, some of the concerns are raised, particularly amongst teachers and the traditional educators, is that what this will do is make teachers redundant, I mean literally and figuratively, that this is going to take away that vital concept of having that mentor, having that teacher in the classroom.

You know, every child, their great joy should be to have found that favorite, really impressive teacher.

KHAN: Yes, rather than taking away from the mentorship that a teacher can do or the inspiration that a teacher can do, it's actually supercharging that.

In a traditional model, a teacher's spending a lot of time being distant from the student, giving a lecture. And a small percentage can be devoted to actually interacting and being that mentor and being that inspiration.

We're saying now all of that can be. So all of these good things that we all agree are what make great teachers great, the mentorship, the inspiration; instead of that being 10 percent of class time, that can now be 100 percent of class time.

AMANPOUR: And you've got something like -- I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. I think you've got about 3,000-plus videos on YouTube.

KHAN: That's right.

AMANPOUR: What kind of effect are you having globally? In other words, are you taking this beyond the United States?

Is this for people in countries that -- you know, many people don't have access to education.

KHAN: Yes. You know, it's been pretty clear that, as we've kind of been being pulled out here, where these NGOs outside of the U.S. say, well, look, you have content. Can we put it on DVDs? Can we put it on thumb drives? Can we take it out to orphanages? Can we take it out to villages? And there have been groups doing this; we've been hearing tremendous stories.

There's a orphanage in Mongolia, where some volunteers from Silicon Valley went out there. And there's this girl, Zaia (ph), who once started using Khan Academy for herself. But she got somewhat inspired by this ability to reach others. And she's now our main translator into Mongolian. So she's produced 100 math videos in Mongolian. This is a 16-year-old orphan.

AMANPOUR: And what about in some of the areas around the world where, for instance, women haven't been able to get educated because of the system?

KHAN: Yes, I mean, this is, you know, because --

AMANPOUR: Have you heard back? Have you got feedback?

KHAN: We have. You know, we get -- we get hundreds of letters every day. And we get feedback from people, saying, you know, I have -- don't have access to a school or, in my culture, it's not acceptable for girls to be going to school. And this is giving them access without necessarily even having to leave the house.

AMANPOUR: Salman Khan, thank you very much indeed.

KHAN: Thanks for having me.


AMANPOUR: So online education is just becoming more and more pervasive, more and more acceptable.

And after a quick break, we'll look at a cultural phenomenon, with 130,000 faces, a portrait of the artist, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to the power of art as a means of self-expression, protest and celebration.

My guest tonight is an artist who's helped people across the globe become artists as well. JR, as he's known, is an artist in public spaces, where you can interact with passersby. He started with graffiti art as a teenager in Paris, and then he began pasting huge photographs that he had taken, literally anywhere, on buildings, billboards, vehicles and doors.

In 2011, he received the prestigious TED prize in California and he won $100,000 to fund a special wish -- a way to change the world. So JR decided that his wish was to create a project called Inside Out, the photographer handing the camera to his subjects and letting them post their work wherever they want.

More than 130,000 of these photos have been popping up in more than 100 countries. And JR recently came into the studio to talk about his own story and his latest project, now the subject of a coming documentary on HBO, called "Inside Out: The People's Art Project."


AMANPOUR: JR, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to your pictures, welcome to this amazing set.

What is this all about? Why did you decide to poster huge pictures all over the world?

JR: You know, I started from graffiti. As -- when you do graffiti, you write your name to say, "I exist."

When you paste a photo of someone, you put up his face to say, "He exists."

And then the journey started.

AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating. And I was fascinated by what you did in Sierra Leone because you were in this slum area -- again, I've covered Sierra Leone. I saw it during the worst of the civil war. And you always feel so sorry for those youngsters who are condemned to being beggars, being robbers and feeling that they are nothing.

How did they feel when you then made them somebody?

JR: You know, Sierra Leone or Liberia, the different place I went for that project in "Women are Heroes," was really amazing, because I was -- I was waiting for people to tell me, this is not a place for art. This is not a place for photos on walls.

But I found the exact opposite. People were like, "Please, do it here. Please." We want to show the images. We want to, you know, show some dignity on the wall. And it was about women there, that most of the time, suffer from conflict but survive the conflict. And so I wanted to highlight them.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to play a little bit of the documentary, which is about to air on HBO, about Sierra Leone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lion Base in Freetown.

A group of boys that lived under a bridge. The community called them robbers, thieves, outlaws. They didn't even know their names.

We pasted their faces along the bridge. It had a very strong impact. For the first time the boys had an identity.


AMANPOUR: And I just think that's so important, this issue of identity that you keep bestowing on these faceless, nameless people.

JR: So you know, in this case in Sierra Leone, I went there in 2007 when I started Inside Out, it's people themselves who did the project.

So what we just saw is actually the people there in Sierra Leone who heard about my project and who's like, all right; he came here in 2007. But now we want to do it ourselves. That's the issues we want to highlight. And I've never been back since that they've done it. And I'm amazed to see that.

AMANPOUR: So tell me about Inside Out, because that is your campaign at the moment, your project at the moment. You brought it here to New York City in Times Square and people are just, you know, amazed to be walking over the sidewalk with these huge, giant, poster-size faces on the ground.

What is Inside Out?

JR: Inside Out is basically a project where you can express yourself. You don't have to wait for me to come in your community to do it. I've done that for more than 12 years and then I realized that if I switch the concept, I could let the people take their photos, print it for them -- I don't have a photo booth truck like here in Times Square I do have.

I would send it back to them, whatever they are in the world. And that's how the project in Sierra Leone even, Sierra Leone, for example, happened.

AMANPOUR: This -- so your brought your own sort of printing --

JR: Exactly. And then people, you know --

AMANPOUR: -- lined up for hours.

JR: Yes. When it's the case of the booth here, when it's online, you can send it and wait for it to come back. Then it prints in a couple of seconds and either we ship it at your home, directly, and then you paste it. So here in Times Square we had authorization by Times Square Alliance to cover the entire ground, look at this sign --


AMANPOUR: It's incredible.

JR: -- (inaudible). People were like, no way, I can paste this?

Yes, of course.

And it's all about the interaction when you look at it --

AMANPOUR: And you got onto the biggest billboard there, too.

JR: Yes. The amazing thing is that there was an empty billboard, and the owner said, you can have it. And this is not selling anything. It's not sponsored by any brand or any corporation. It's just about people's message.

AMANPOUR: It seems to be a joyful project, people want to help you, want to be involved.

JR: It's true because I get like amazing group of volunteers, people coming from all around the world and people, New Yorkers who came in, helped us every day. You know, it's not about how beautiful is the photo. It's about the interaction.

We'll even award a social media, where all the interactions social media, but when we are back to a real interaction, I was like, hey, let's paste together. Can you pass me the brush? Wait, I want to paste here. Oh, look at my face. Can you take a photo? Then you're back into interaction --

AMANPOUR: Human relations.

JR: Exactly. Imagine that in Sierra Leone, I can just mention all the hundreds of countries that Inside Out have been in in less than a year and a half.

AMANPOUR: Some of the places that really struck me were some of the most troubled places. For instance, you posted a lot of pictures up on the dividing wall between Israel and the West Bank, between Israel and the Palestinians.

What was that? Was that sort of like the cliche of here's a wall and we're just going to show how we're all together or not?

JR: So that was when I was still photographing myself. That was -- I was putting (inaudible). That was in 2007. And basically this was photos of Israeli and Palestinians doing the same job. So I pasted the wall on both sides, but I also pasted in cities.

And people would come to it and say, what are you doing? And I would show them like look, and said, no, this is -- no, this is just in our project. Oh, OK, OK. But who are those people? This is two taxi drivers. One is Israeli; one is Palestinian. And they would always be there silent.

AMANPOUR: Because they couldn't tell the difference.

JR: Exactly. And so basically where people told me, you're going to get, you know, kidnapped or arrested or killed for doing that, people were laughing because they couldn't see who was who. And then they will, you know, they will say, OK. Let's try on another one, and I would paste another couple of portraits. And they wouldn't recognize those.

So by the regions who are then a little bit of naiveness maybe, you achieve certain things that, you know, shows you that the limits is not necessarily what you think they are.

AMANPOUR: It is remarkable. And then, you know, a lot of joy, a lot of cooperation in places like this, but a little bit of resistance in Tunisia, for instance, after the Arab Spring, the Inside Out went to some of those countries. And I was struck by the one in Tunisia, whereby, sure, they put up these fabulous posters of young, ordinary Tunisians and --


JR: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- yes, Ben Ali is replacing the dictator.

Tell me about your description of the space that they had for these pictures.

JR: You know, it was amazing because this was the first big Inside Out. So I went there to witness it. But I was not part of it. I just went there, look at those young Tunisians pasting their photos everywhere, covering the portraits. And they had a lot of reactions from the community, from the people because people, you didn't know how to interact with those photos.

Who are those portraits? Are those new dictators? We never saw up on walls. What is that? What do you mean by that? So their first reactions were to take it down. But what was really interesting, I thought this was a failure.

But a man came and said, look, guys; you have the right to paste on the walls. Sure. They have the right to take it down. That's democracy. And we're just enjoying it for the first time. And he was right.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's interesting that you're explaining to me, because I was like, what is wrong with you guys? Why do you care whether pictures of ordinary Tunisians are up there? Why were people pulling them down?

JR: That shows you how much powerful is in -- you know, is in an image in the street. And out there, people -- it was the revolution just happened, people, there was no control in the street. People, they were just hopeful that something happened. They had one face for, you know, years. And now that they could get back their wall, they at least had the freedom of speech of saying who should be on it.

And you know what, they're completely right. And that interaction was beautiful. It was really like interesting, this picture. And they managed to continue pasting, but they had first to explain to everyone in the streets. So it was really interesting how you have -- without you have to find the time to explain and do it with the people.

AMANPOUR: What touched you the most? What made the biggest impression on you in this project?

JR: You know, for years, I have been going into those places and people would tell me, yes, but you decided to go there; maybe they want it; maybe they didn't want it. By not going there, I'm just sitting at home and I'm like, look, it's happening in 10,000 cities as we're talking, in 100 countries.

And it's the people who decided where in really which places and really (inaudible) in school, in the conflict zone, a guy in Iran would go in jail for that, again Russia would get arrested. They really took those images to another level. It became their project. And I'm just the enabler. So Inside Out became like a platform. That's what's really amazing to me in it.

AMANPOUR: And I have to ask you, because you're sitting inside, in my studio. Why are you wearing glasses? And why do you go by the name JR, which is not your real name?

JR: Exactly, because you know, when I started, I started as a graffiti writer. So you have to hide. And most of the project I've done throughout the years was without authorization. And when I started putting faces of people, I was like why would I put my name in front of it? It's about their name. So I stayed in the shadow.

And when I'm in Times Square, everyone can come to me; I take photos, I walk with people even in the communities. But I don't see what I would gain from being recognized in the streets when I walk outside so --


AMANPOUR: Can I see your eyes?

JR: You can see them right after.


AMANPOUR: All right, JR. Thank you.

JR: Nice to meet you.

AMANPOUR: You, too.


AMANPOUR: That's one way to see democracy in action. And after a break, in this increasingly complex and diverse world that we live in, is good governance even possible? With wisdom and tolerance? A piece of clay that's 2,600 years old has the answer, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: A final thought tonight, on ancient Persia, today we're served an almost daily diet of tensions and threats among Iran and Israel and the United States over Iran's nuclear program. But not many may know that 2,600 years ago Jews and Iranians -- then called Persians -- lived in harmony, and that the Jews owed their very freedom to the Persian king, Cyrus the Great.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This little clay object, the Cyrus Cylinder, tells us why. You can read the story in the Old Testament, how the first temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, who forced the Jewish people into exile and captivity until the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed the Jews to go home and rebuild their temple.

His account is written on this ancient clay. And if you look closely, you can see the cuneiform figures, the oldest form of writing, carved into the surface. In 1879, the cylinder was discovered in what is now modern Iraq.


AMANPOUR: And it's not just a touchstone for Jews and a source of Iranian identity, it also helps form the basis of democracy and human rights in Europe and at the founding of the United States of America. The cylinder usually resides in the British Museum in London. But it has just started a tour of five major cities here in the United States.

I spoke with museum director Neil MacGregor before an audience at the cylinder's first stop, the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. And I asked him about the meaning of this ancient artifact and how its legacy of religious tolerance and enlightened leadership is especially relevant today.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Why is this cylinder so important today, 2,600 years old? What does it mean today?

MACGREGOR: What it means is the first serious attempt that we know about running a society estate in which there were people of different nationalities and different types, because the ancient Persian empire was the first empire to address that.

So we're at the beginning of a new kind of state, a new kind of statecraft.

AMANPOUR: I hadn't been so aware of the incredible role that the ancient Persian King Cyrus plays in the life of Jews, in the life of Jerusalem.

MACGREGOR: He's absolutely central, The Jews, remember, had been attacked by the Syrians, by Nebuchadnezzar, by Belshazzar and the people of Jerusalem had been taken captive and deported to Babylon.

And there by the waters of Babylon, they sat down and wept. And then, Cyrus arrives and allows all the deported people, not only the Jews, but especially the Jews to go home, to take with them the vessels from the temple that had been stolen and to rebuild the temple.

AMANPOUR: Well, when you have this 2,600-year cylinder in your possession, I mean, does it strike that you that we're in a state of really bad relations right now between Israel and Iran, between the United States and Iran? Do you think it has some kind of worth, particularly today?

MACGREGOR: I think it reminds us how strange that situation is, because through all Jewish history, from the prophet Isaiah, from Ezra onwards, Cyrus and the Iranians are the good rulers. They're the rulers who allowed the return.

And when the British government in 1917 issues the Balfour declaration to create the homeland for the Jews in Israel, the Jews of Eastern Europe compare George V, king of Great Britain, to Cyrus.

AMANPOUR: So in sum, Cyrus and his heir, Darius, and on and on for about 200 years, they represented a multicultural, multifaith tolerance. Is that -- what -- sum up what they represented?

MACGREGOR: What they represent is the first recognition, I think, that if you're going to run a society with different languages, different beliefs, you cannot impose by force one system. You need to find a way of getting the consent of your different peoples by recognizing their diversity.

AMANPOUR: Neil Macgregor, thank you very much indeed.

MACGREGOR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Religious tolerance, enlightened leadership and great governance, things to live by today. And that is it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always reach us on our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.