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Topic: Algebra Textbook Recommendation


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Subject:   RE: Algebra Textbook Recommendation
Author: markovchaney
Date: Jul 7 2007
On Jul  6 2007, autumdove wrote:
> Those were great examples.  Saxon math works when the goal is to
> truly study and LEARN math.  Unfortunately, too many teachers and
> students are not willing to meet the challenge!

What is the "challenge" to teachers in using Saxon Math, a program widely
promoted as "teacher-proof"? Saxon himself states at the beginning of all the
books that teachers must assigne EVERY problem and IN THE ORDER GIVEN. It is
difficult for me to conceive of something LESS  dependent on a teacher's
knowledge of his/her students and their individual and collective needs, nor
upon a teacher's general and particular pedagogical content-knowledge. Of
course, given that Saxon himself and the majority of his supporters who attack
reform programs on-line do not believe in pedagogical content-knowledge (and
indeed, many of them apparently don't believe in pedagogy at all), this is
utterly unsurprising. My sense is that Saxon Math programs are pitched at: a)
teachers who lack deep understanding of basic mathematics and the subtleties of
trying to differentiate instruction to diverse student abilities and learning
styles. Saxon Math lifts the burden for making decisions from the teacher by
claiming that all students must do all problems in the order presented in the
book. What could be easier? A machine could teach Saxon Math; b) home school
parents who may not know much mathematics at all; c) people in general who
believe that mathematics is primarily procedural - a series of facts and steps
to be memorized and practiced to "automaticity" - this latter word being almost
a shibboleth among many Saxon and Singapore Math advocates, as if the goal of
mathematics were to become a human calculator. This is not to decry the
usefulness of knowing facts and procedures, but very little mathematical problem
solving of a non-routine nature is going to be successfully attempted by
applying rote methods. And no mathematician gets paid to solve already-solved
problems. The worksheet mentality that is so prized among some teachers is a
reflection of either incredible laziness (what could be simpler than doing a
couple of well-rehearsed  examples from the teachers' manual on the board and
then passing out worksheets? I can't be the only person here who knows teachers
who do this and then sit down to read the newspaper while kids are dutifully
grinding out (or failing to grind out) those worksheet problems (or in the case
of Saxon, all those lovely little incremental "problems," one at a time,
regardless of complete understanding or lack thereof), or very shallow notions
of what goes into teaching and learning mathematics, if not both.

Obviously, we're all entitled to our opinions, but I find it difficult, if not
impossible, to respect the approach that Saxon Math provides. Furthermore, I
don't see how it could appeal to anyone who truly takes an interest in
individual learning and growth. And frankly, I don't see how it could appeal to
anyone who really loves a broad range of what comprises mathematics. It focuses
on a narrow band of mechanical skills (and despite claims to the contrary,
presented in what strikes me as an almost random way in terms of topics in the
ones I've looked at, which are the algebra books). There's little, if anything
in them that helps promote real thinking about what mathematics is or what it
means to solve non-routine problems through the kinds of things Polya and
others have investigated and written about. In sum, what Professor Wu has said
about the elementary books seems to me to apply throughout the rest of the
series, at least through algebra, and I'd be very much surprised if the higher
level books are any different, assuming they are grounded in the same philosophy
upon which Mr. Saxon based all the others.

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