Saxon — 'Changes Will Be Substantial'
by Linda Schrock Taylor
by Linda Schrock Taylor
I believe that all readers should be made aware of the communication that I have been having with a person who is in a position to know a great deal about any completed, planned, and potential changes that Harcourt is likely to do to the traditional Saxon Math materials. Rather than summarize, I have decided to quote the emails exactly, removing identifying details. The gentleman was kind enough to come full circle and admit that I was not in error, except that when I wrote the first article I was unaware of John Saxon's death, and mistakenly thought that he had earned a PhD.
Sunday, September 12, 2004, 2:55 AM
Thank you for writing your article entitled, "Why Now, Saxon?" I too am very concerned about the future of the Saxon textbooks, and I hope that Harcourt does not do a "dumb-down" on them. However, I think your article may be a little premature, and with some incorrect facts as well, could lead otherwise would-be Saxon users to consider another, less beneficial curricula. Forgive me if I misread the article, but it seemed like you wrote it as if John Saxon was still alive. Unfortunately, he passed away in October of 1996. In addition, he never received a Ph.D. I believe you referred to him as Dr. John Saxon at least once.
I purchased all of the new paperback, homeschool editions (which were published before Harcourt bought Saxon) as soon as they were available, and I have studied them thoroughly. I have seen no evidence that any of the books have been dumbed down.
When he was president of Saxon Publishers, Frank Wang visited … and … Since then, I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know some of John Saxon's closest friends and supporters. In doing so I have learned that we have a common vision for teaching real math to American students.
One error that you made in your article was stating that the rewritten books (and I am assuming that you mean the new paperback editions) have a different order of topics. Yes, there are some different lesson titles and some new material inserted, but the most important topics are still in an incremental order. For example, the new Math 87, 3rd edition, is about 99% similar to the hardback 87 2nd edition.
Another error that I saw in your article was in describing stem and leaf problems as "fuzzy, dumbed down fluff." The inclusion of these problems is because of the increasing need for students to understand methods of data analysis that are typically used by scientists. Stem and leaf plots are foundational to a study of statistics. For example, on page 51 of the statistics textbook that I used in graduate school, it says, "The stem and leaf plot is a clever, simple device for constructing a histogram like picture of a frequency distribution" (Ott, R. Lyman, An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Data Analysis, 4th ed. Duxbury Press, Belmont, CA 1993). With 120 lessons and 12 investigations in each of the new books, I don't think that stem and leaf problems take away from other important mathematics concepts that should be taught in these grades, and I don't think they should be considered as "dumbed down fluff." Yes, the new books are unfortunately more expensive, but I think they are better and more helpful to homeschool parents, especially with the solutions manuals.
I don't think the efficient, incremental, building-block philosophies that John Saxon taught have been lost yet. As Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen farther, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants," and Lord willing, I do not plan on letting the Saxon legacy disappear. I will continue to … promote Saxon textbooks until I see evidence that Harcourt is actually dumbing down the curriculum. When I do see that happening I am in a position to stand on Saxon's shoulders and make a better curriculum very quickly. We have many families who are counting on us to teach their children math and we will not let them down.
I hope that your article has not caused anyone to shy away from Saxon materials prematurely and go and purchase an inferior product that may not be as helpful to their child, but if you think it may have had that impact (and I think it does), then I think you should write a new article and correct some of your mistakes and encourage people to continue to use Saxon materials including the new paperback editions. I realize Harcourt could have had some influence on these changes, however I see no evidence of dumbing down the curriculum so far.
Thank you again for your article and for your concern for the education of America's children. If you would like to discuss this further please feel free to contact me. Keep up the great work.
Sunday, September 12, 2004,
Thank you so much for your letter and your analysis. I'm relieved to know that someone already deeply involved with the materials is still feeling comfortable — at least at this point in time — with them.
I took the "rearrangement of topics" straight from the descriptions of the new books at the Saxon website. I took the "teacher will now be tutor and coach" straight from the descriptions at the Saxon website. I fully detest anything that even hints of New-Math and would never advise any parent to use books with New-Math lingo and look. I've been anti-new-math since the late 60's when my mother called it "Cloud Nine Math." I've had letters from homeschooling parents who tried the new materials and returned them; from parents whose children went from loving math and doing well, to struggling and hating math in the new books.
I was unaware of any rewriting prior to the sale of Saxon, and I especially hate the thought of soft back consumables to further financially punish homeschooling families. As for the 'leaf and stem' — I will accept that you are accurate in regards to their use in statistics. However, I've gone gray trying to teach such foolishness to young children who bring those problems into my clinic for tutoring when they lack a solid foundation in basic arithmetic. I will never believe that such things need to be included in any math prior to high school higher maths. Most children will never go on to be scientists and mathematicians so why confuse math issues for them with unnecessary information and processes?? I believe that the decision to do so is another step to confuse and dumb down math for children still learning processes that will be of use to them for their entire lives.
I was unaware of John Saxon's death when I wrote the article. He was one of those people I admire so much that it is nearly impossible to picture him gone. I'm sorry for the 'Dr.' — I have heard people refer to him as "Dr." and figured that I was safer to over label, than under-label.
When people ask my advice, I explain that I would trust the books prior to 2004 and those without the Harcourt name on them. They will still use Saxon, even if they have to scour every used bookstore in the nation to find the good hard backed books. Of course...that is PRECISELY what will hurt sales at Harcourt. Hum????
A Harcourt rep contacted me and wanted to discuss my article, but only if "off the record." I'm not interested in that kind of a discussion and I trust that you have contacted me of your own accord, and not at the encouragement of Harcourt.
You state that you 'hope' that Harcourt isn't planning to change Saxon books. But...if they are not planning exactly that, why have they gotten rid of almost every employee who worked under John Saxon? I read that in a newspaper article sent to me by a couple people. I also received a long letter from [a former Saxon employee]. He spoke very positively about Old-Saxon and the fact that most good elements are still in the books at this point, but he did not feel comfortable about giving his name as he still has friends within the company who are trying to hold on and fight against the changes they see coming. I've been involved with closely monitoring a situation where a National Science Foundation grant of $9 million dollars went to a group of school districts IF THEY CHOSE the math books that the NSF wanted them to choose. Saxon was not on the list of approved books. Harcourt certainly has to be aware that if they don't change the books so that they meet the New-Math criteria expected by the NSF and the government, their books will not be approved and their sales will be limited to homeschoolers and a few private schools. Therefore, loss of sales. Harcourt has no choice but to modify the books in order to be competitive for government grants. The company would be run by fools were they to decide to do otherwise. I don't want homeschooling families, or anyone, to be tricked into following the piper just because most of the material looks the same now, but with big changes just over the horizon. I am looking at 'intent and agenda'.
As for the Saxon 87 — I'm not concerned about that book for I follow the advice on the earlier Saxon site pages and advise parents to just skip that book if their children have done well in 65 and 76; to go directly into Algebra 1/2. I've used the 87 book for years and it is not my favorite, by any means. I consider it a remedial book and pass it by unless a child definitely needs a refresher course. My homeschooling close friends have done the same with both of their children and everything went smoothly and our children didn't lose a year repeating 65 and 76 stuff.
"I don't think the efficient, incremental, building-block philosophies that John Saxon taught have been lost yet."
"Yet" — YET YET!!!!
I quote you, and sense that even you see the handwriting on the wall. You and Wang may have a common vision, but Harcourt has to compete for those NSF grants. I'm afraid that you will find that in due course the federal grants become the trump cards, dictating the curriculum outline, and the core content, no matter that you, Wang and I all agree that the traditional Saxon curriculum should remain intact. I believe that Harcourt will embrace the incremental approach — but only as it applies to them slowly modifying books that they know users don't want modified. Change one lesson in this edition; 10 in the next; 40 in the next, and incrementally we will arrive at...Voila! New-Math-New-Saxon content and order.
Thank you, again, for your letter, but I am sorry to say that you have not soothed my concerns. I still believe that parents need to be watchful and understand that a big player in the textbook wars is already changing and tampering, even if on an incrementally small scale at this point. The whole picture is "not yet" so that we can see it.
You are certainly free to disagree with me, and if you absolutely are not writing on behalf of Harcourt, then I would be happy to discuss the issues with you further. I appreciate your time and your candor.
Sunday, September 12, 2004,
Thank you for responding to my email. I am definitely not writing on Behalf of Harcourt, or even Saxon for that matter. I will think carefully about your comments on the necessity of 5th graders learning stem and leaf plots, thank you for letting me know of your experiences. And yes, I hope that Harcourt doesn't destroy the Saxon method, but I am not very optimistic right now either…If Harcourt is wanting to market to the big districts, then I think the changes will be substantial. Thanks again for your response.
Monday, September 13, 2004,
I have been considering your two emails from every angle possible, for they are as though written by two different people. I appreciate your candor and courage in finally admitting to me that you, also, believe that Harcourt will probably make substantial changes. I don't understand why you wrote that first letter, asking me to retract my article, when you KNEW that I was hitting the proverbial nail on the head.
I need to alert parents to the confirmation of my fears; not to any errors that I made. I will do everything possible to hide your identity as I explain the content of our communications, and quote important parts. Since you wrote the clarifying second email with the full understanding of my policy of "No 'Off the Record'" discussions, you should not surprised that I plan to share the information and opinions…
September 15, 2004
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a free-lance writer and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.
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