I recently met John H. Saxon, Jr. at the National Science Teachers Association convention. I attended his session which introduced his new Physics textbook. Partly, I attended the session out of curiosity due to what I had read in the NCTM conference. I wanted to know who this man was and to what pedagogic methodology does he subscribe? The session was interesting and revealing.
Saxon talked a lot about himself. He told the audience that he turned 71 years of age on December 10th. His presentation was a mixture of talking about his academic life, in which he revealed that he often did poorly in mathematics forcing him to retake courses, and pointing out his "favorite" problems in his book. His new physics textbook is linear in design. It consists of 100 lessons presented one right after the other with no attempt to link physics concepts into any kind of unified picture. The audience was asked to start at page 6 and 7 and we then went to page 13 and then page 19 and so forth in an 800+ page book. The presentation was disjointed, the problems in the book were presented in isolation, and there was little effort to organize the problems into clearly identifiable concepts or categories. There was no attempt to include the audience in the presentation nor was there time for Q&A.
The first part of the book is not only revealing, it's a little scary. Saxon spends about 16 pages on a preface and "An Open Letter to President Clinton." He uses this "textbook" to deliver a politically charged diatribe in which he blasts the NCTM as being central to creating a disaster in math and science education. He criticizes the textbook adoption process in California and Texas. He criticizes the Texas Education Commissioner, Dr. Lionel Meno, for "probably not knowing the difference between momentum and a photon." And he is critical of Ann Richards for not answering his letter to her offering $500,000 worth of free books for Texas schools. Saxon is highly critical of a number of other educators for not accepting his offer of free books because of what he calls "their fear of his math experts."
What's scary about Saxon, his textbook, and his attitude, is how successful he's been. This is a success not based on the quality of his materials and methods, but based on exploiting the fear and ignorance of some educators. I was astounded at how many educators in the session I attended were willing to give Saxon an audience. I was surprised that no one questioned the appropriateness of using of a textbook to deliver personal politically motivated propaganda to the educational community.
After attending Saxon's session, I am more committed than ever to teaching teachers about the craft of teaching, the NCTM standards, and exploring new possibilities in making learning work for all children. Whereas Saxon touts having the answer, the NCTM standards promotes having an approach--an approach developed by numerous math experts using a consensus method. Saxon, on the other hand, boasted about hiring a "fresh out of college PhD" to help him write his latest book because he was willing to work cheap. His motivations for publishing textbooks are chilling.
Ken Blystone, Educational Technologist Ysleta Independent School District 9600 Sims El Paso, Texas 79925 Voice: 915-595-5676 Fax: 915-595-5930 Data1: 915-594-3429 (The CyberSchool System) Data2: 915-598-1987 (The K12 Network/Internet Link) Data3: 915-595-6806 (Ysleta Educational Telecommunications)