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Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #1, 1993.

Are there gremlins in Saxon Math? Mary gives you the whole story so you can decide for yourself.
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Mary Pride

Aim . . . fire . . . ready! What's going on here? Why are some home schoolers sniping at the best math program ever made available to home schoolers? Why do some homeschool magazines refuse to accept ads from its publisher, or even mention the program's name?

I'm talking about the famous Saxon Math program, developed by former Air Force officer and high-school math instructor John Saxon. In spite of test after test showing that the use of Saxon Math increases algebra enrollment by up to 400 percent, and that Saxon Math students radically outperform students using other math programs, Mr. Saxon has been fighting an uphill battle to get his program used in the public schools. Opposed by leftist groups such as NOW, on the grounds that his books fail to promote feminism, political correctness, and the New World Order, Saxon was delighted to find out about the homeschooling movement. Surely home schoolers would appreciate his books for what they are -- excellent and witty math teaching devices!

Then came the pie in the face. A few home schoolers took it upon themselves to start circulating letters condemning the Saxon texts as "New Age" and urging others to boycott them.

The original letter writers had a point, though they certainly weren't taking the best way to express it. The original Saxon texts had a light sprinkling of references to demons, poltergeists, and other unpleasant spiritual beings. The reason for this is simple -- John Saxon, not being either a fundamentalist Christian or a New Ager, does not believe in such beings. He thought they were harmless "fairy tale" creatures that he could use to spice up his problems. When confronted with letters and calls from Christians who objected to these terms, he promptly cleaned up his books (see sidebar "Saxon Speaks Out").

You would now expect that everyone would be happy. However, some individuals are still writing and circulating letters urging their fellow Christians to shun Saxon.

What are the letter writers objecting to now?

  1. The occasional use of words such as hoyden and ribald.
  2. References to medieval life. One letter writer, for example, after having read a book about the occult game "Dungeons and Dragons," concluded that any mention of medieval occupations or weaponry anywhere is a sneaky plot to entwine readers in the occult.
  3. Bogeymen. Occasional references to fairies and gnomes. The letter writers have magnified this to make it sound like the Saxon texts are absolutely riddled with adoring references to occult beings.

Naturally I was concerned when I heard about this. So I pulled my Saxon math texts off the shelf and read through every word problem in the current editions. Here is what I discovered:

  1. Saxon is very moralistic. Unlike every other math text on the market, his books use pejorative terms about sins such as cheating, boastful behavior, laziness, and so forth. Students may have to look up the words to find out what Saxon's talking about (that's the whole point, as he's trying to improve their vocabularies), but after they do, they will have a clear sense that this math text at least condemns certain behavior as wrong. If this isn't Christian, take me out and shoot me!
  2. Saxon attempts to spark interest in other school subjects, such as history and chemistry. He does this by frequent allusions to historic, literary, and scientific subjects. An ignorant reader who believes all Greek names, for example, must be those of heathen gods could conceivably get bent out of shape over the constant mention of names he does not recognize. Especially if he isn't willing to take the trouble of consulting the encyclopedia.
  3. The references to fairies, etc. are not only few and far between (some books don't have any), but are inevitably irreverent. No true New Ager would get any comfort from the picture of the fairy queen counting toadstools while arranging seating for the fairy convention. It sounds too much like Saxon doesn't believe in these beings!

    Q. If the math book had over 120 chapters,
    each with over 29 problems, plus an
    additional 200-plus problems in the back,
    and if only 10 of the problems were
    questionable, what percent of the
    problems were questionable? -- MP

You, of course, are the best judge of what kind of materials you want to use in your family. So you can make an informed choice, we have printed every single questionable problem from the current edition of the Saxon books at the end of this article (see Saxon Problems article). I have included every problem anyone could possibly object to. So now, if you are interested in the Saxon Math approach, you have the following choices:
  1. Buy the books and use them as is.
  2. Buy the books and use any problems you consider questionable to teach your children the truth about fairies, magicians, etc.
  3. Buy the books and use a Magic Marker (oops, I meant a felt-tipped marker!) to delete the problems you don't like. Use the list in the next columns to quickly locate any problems you would rather live without. We have provided problem set numbers so you can immediately go right to these problems without having to scan the whole book yourself.

    Q.If it took the anxious mother 30 seconds
    apiece to locate and delete each
    questionable problem, how many minutes
    in all would this take the anxious mother?

If you want to see which problems have caused so much ruckus, as well as some problems which are widely accepted, click here .

One last thought: John Saxon will be eventually producing yet another edition of his books. He has told me he is open to hearing about what kinds of problems you would like to see in his books. Consider this an invitation to share your good ideas for character-building problems.

Happy math!

John Saxon speaks:

"Yes, I have heard from many people, and I have removed the things that I consider might be offensive to these people.

For example, I replaced demons with gremlins. When I was a pilot in World War II, when we were flying at 20,000 feet, the metal would contract and you would hear grinding and squealing noises from the back of the plane, and it would make you feel real uncomfortable. So World War II pilots invented "gremlins," little men that were running around back there causing these strange noises.

"I also removed ghouls, poltergeists, etc. I thought those were medieval folk tales, and I put them in the book for fun for the kids. But I removed them.

"I took out everything that refers to the occult. I have gone through the books and removed everything that could be offensive to someone who was reasonable. I adamantly refused to take out ghosts, fairies, leprechauns, and all of the wonderful little imaginary people that populate the Disney movies and the stories that children have found so fascinating for hundreds of years.

"Now the only way you can fight the occult is to make a joke of it. You can't protect children from things that are rampant in our society by refusing ever to talk about them.

"They object violently to the Greek gods. But if your children are not familiar with the Greek gods, they lose much of our heritage. All of the famous writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth, and of the twentieth century also, make constant reference to Greek mythology. Not because the Greek gods were true, and not because the Greek myths were true, but because everything we have in our culture comes from the Jews and the Greeks.

"Most of the letters I have gotten are from good people who confuse Christianity and ignorance. What distresses me is how much pleasure many of these Christians get out of hate. They are writing letters to all of these people, telling them about the evil in my books because I have fairies and ghosts in them. And of all of the things they could spend their energy on, it looks like I would be the least offensive, because my books do so much for their children's understanding of math. And if there ever was a word in my book that they consider offensive, they could use that as a time to explain to their child that there are no such things as ghosts and there are no fairies."

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