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Topic: Saxon ad
Replies: 18   Last Post: Feb 27, 1995 8:54 AM

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Michael Paul Goldenberg

Posts: 7,041
From: Ann Arbor, MI
Registered: 12/3/04
Saxon ad
Posted: Feb 25, 1995 3:08 AM
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Having just finished reading the Saxon ad in the March MATHEMATICS
TEACHER, I wonder how Jack Price managed to show the restraint he did in
his now-infamous exchanges with Mr. Saxon. The errors, lies, distortions,
and half-truths that permeate this latest missive from Planet Saxon only
further my belief that he is both incredibly ignorant and enormously
self-serving. Indeed, the more he claims to be solely concerned with
students, the obvious it becomes that he is primarily concerned with
self-aggrandizement.

First, according to Saxon, the new math was created in the seventies.
This will no doubt come as a shock to those of us who are actually
familiar with the history of the new math. Did we hallucinate the late
'50's and early '60's? When, exactly, was SMSG in operation? Well, facts
are for scholars, I suppose.

Next, Mr. Saxon informs us that if you "read the Standards carefully you
will find that the goals are poorly stated and that the methods to be
used to reach these nebulous goals are emphasized. We are to concentrate
on using technology, reduce the emphasis on paper and pencil skills,
especially long division, and concentrate on cooperative learning." Well,
what exactly is the problem here? Perhaps if the goals had been stated
more categorically, Mr. Saxon would be complaining that they are too
rigid. Instead of acknowledging the spirit of the Standards, which were
presented as a set of guidelines and suggestions rather than as
unalterable dogma, Mr. Saxon finds reason to argue with the very
flexibility in the Standards that I suspect were intended to depart from
the new math of which Mr. Saxon is so critical. Seems like the NCTM is
damned regardless of its intentions.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at Mr. Saxon's contention
that the long division algorithm is "a great game to teach the relationships
of numbers." After describing the 'guess and check' flavor of the
algorithm, he states, "The answer is not all that important. Paper and
pencil work with numbers is important because it enhances understanding
of basic number concepts, and this understanding is what leads to
successful problem solving. Why should this most important teaching tool
be de-emphasized? It makes no sense."

In fact, what makes no sense is how Mr. Saxon can continue to contradict
himself without blushing. THE ANSWER IS NOT ALL THAT IMPORTANT? I must
have misread the Saxon books I've looked at, misheard the advocates of
the Saxon approach, and misunderstood his repeated calling for testing
and measurement of results. Now, suddenly, we have Mr. Saxon as the
champion of play and experimentation? Somehow, in the context of his call
for pencil and paper work and his praise of long division, I am not
convinced.

Equally unsound are Mr. Saxon's attacks on cooperative learning and
technology. Apparently, he is as ignorant of the research on calculator
use and group work as he is of the history of mathematics education
reform. He continues to claim that calculator use weakens students'
problem ability, though he cites nothing but vague, semi-anecdotal
evidence. Similarly, his story about the girl in Norman, OK who "got
points in math class for being nice" reveals Mr. Saxon's utter
misunderstanding of what cooperative learning and group work is about. In
fact, the story illustrates that what is valued in some classroom
cultures is a polite form of intellectual discourse that clearly neither Mr.
Saxon nor I were raised on.

Mr. Saxon concludes by inviting teachers and math supervisors to call his
company to get the names of schools in their states that have used Saxon
math. The teachers will be glad to speak of students' success, he tells
us. I suggest that after anyone does so, they contact me for the name of
a school district in southeastern Michigan that recently decided to drop
the Saxon materials entirely due to the general dissatisfaction of
students, teachers, parents, and administrators with the results of
several years' use of his textbooks. Indeed, the 6th grade teachers in
the district are the only ones who were unaffected by this change, since
they had refused across the board to use the Saxon books. Somehow, I
don't imagine that those of you from Michigan who call Saxon Publishers
will be given the name of this or any other unhappy district.

To be fair, I don't think the Saxon books are utterly without merit.
However, I find what positive things they offer to be present in other,
far more innovative and well-thought out teaching materials, materials
that generally are free of many of the deficiencies of the Saxon books:
overkill, lack of visual appeal (or appeal to any alternate learning
styles), emphasis on procedures, and many others. I am particularly
amazed by Mr Saxon's contention that his "math books meet the goals of
the NCTM STANDARDS better than the books of any other publisher because
we concentrate on the end result rather than on the process." This
claim conflicts rather glaringly with the earlier statement about long
division; it also tips Mr. Saxon's hand most assuredly. For he indicates
here that he is guilty of that most fundamental of errors: believing that
the ends justify the means. Being a poor student of history, Mr. Saxon
has obviously failed to notice that it is almost without exception the
case that the means determine the ends. Many of the most well-intentioned
revolutions have failed not because they did not topple the status quo,
but because those who triumphed lost touch with their original goals.
They were so transformed by the inhumane means they employed to gain
power that they were no longer interested in the same ends that first
sparked their revolutionary fervor. In the case of the Saxon books, I'm
afraid that we can't have it both ways. Aside from the doubtful nature of
Mr. Saxon's criteria for success, he has committed himself to the notion
that his materials are the best at meeting goals that he generally
disavows, and he further claims to be doing so by concentrating on
results alone, even though the NCTM STANDARDS are highly
process-oriented. If the Saxon approach to mathematics pedagogy is as
muddled as the logic their creator employs in his latest ad, I fear for
the education of those students who are subjected to his texts.

-michael paul goldenberg/University of Michigan





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