K–12: Why John Saxon Is the Brightest Star in Math Education

Homeschooling parents unerringly find the most efficient textbooks.  This is only natural if you have to spend all day at a kitchen table teaching children.

A decade back, I was startled to find homeschoolers almost unanimous in praising the legendary John Saxon (1923–1996).  What was his secret?

Saxon, with three advanced degrees in mathematical subjects, flew jet planes in the Air Force, first as a bomber pilot and then as a test pilot.  Reaching retirement age, he wasn't certain what to do next.  A counselor suggested he teach math at a community college.  He liked the idea but was dismayed to find that his students knew almost no math.  Now he had found his destiny.  He would fix this problem.  How could he possibly do that?  By creating better textbooks.  He ended up creating a publishing empire that was sold for roughly $100,000,000 in 2004.

Saxon had a big heart, an exceptional mind, and a precise vision of how children can most quickly learn arithmetic.  Perhaps the indispensable trait is that he was a fighter.  He challenged the Education Establishment, offering to pay all expenses for head-to-head competitions.  He had no takers.  People said he should perhaps be more polite to the education professors.  Saxon said they didn't deserve it.  Their offerings were absurd.

Near the end of The Great Gatsby, the narrator shouts at Gatsby, "They're a rotten crowd.  You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."  Many Americans would like to shout the same words to John Saxon.

Saxon Math, since its debut in 1981, has proven successful with all "subgroups" of both boys and girls.  John Saxon is the only author and publisher of math textbooks to prove the effectiveness of his teaching methods and materials before selling his books to schools.  He field-tested his first book, an algebra textbook, in 22 Oklahoma schools under the supervision of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.  They gave it a rousing thumbs up.  That's when the establishment realized that it had a problem.  The big New York City publishers refused to publish his work.  The professors began a counter-attack.

American K–12 seems to be controlled by Progressive ideologues determined to dumb down the country.  This group bitterly demonized Saxon's ideas even though they were demonstrably superior.  And what is the  mechanism of that superiority?  Saxon believed in step-by-step instruction, with constant practice and testing to make sure students have truly understood the lessons, and constant recycling of all the main ideas.  Repetition is assumed to be the mother of instruction.  You learn, and then you learn again in a different context.  Students master math, and mathematics becomes a part of their lives.

Here's the clincher. It takes about two hours for teachers or parents to learn how to use Saxon Math effectively.  Teachers of progressive mathematics require a minimum of two weeks of costly training plus more "professional development" throughout the school year.  Two weeks of wading through gunk so you can teach gunk.

Nakonia (Niki) Hayes is the author of the only full biography of the  great man, John Saxon's Story, a genius of common sense in math education.  For many years she was a schoolteacher and school principal. She is a battle-tested veteran of the Math Wars. Now 80, she's still helping teachers and parents to survive these wars. (For a more complete story, visit her site.)

Niki Hayes cautions that revised versions of John Saxon's books published after 2007 are not acceptable.  Older versions can be found on the internet.  Publishers bought the rights to John Saxon's books apparently with the shameful goal of mangling them into conformity with Common Core approaches.

New Math (roughly 1962); Reform Math (many varieties, roughly 1985 and thereafter); and Common Core (more recently) share the same flawed theories and depressing results.  Children don't learn to master math.  They learn to hate math.  Indeed, the most touching part of the John Saxon story is that students loved math and loved the author. 

The Saxon story is a window into everything wrong and indeed corrupt throughout American K–12.  Proven methods are disdained and discarded.  Grotesque complexities doom most children to become innumerate.  They don't go on to advanced subjects.  And then, for years, we have to listen to disingenuous experts complain that America is neglecting STEM subjects.  More accurately, Common Core guarantees this outcome.

Protect your students.  Understand the evils that John Saxon set out to defeat.  Give your students textbooks designed to work. 

Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is  Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  A good gift.

Homeschooling parents unerringly find the most efficient textbooks.  This is only natural if you have to spend all day at a kitchen table teaching children.

A decade back, I was startled to find homeschoolers almost unanimous in praising the legendary John Saxon (1923–1996).  What was his secret?

Saxon, with three advanced degrees in mathematical subjects, flew jet planes in the Air Force, first as a bomber pilot and then as a test pilot.  Reaching retirement age, he wasn't certain what to do next.  A counselor suggested he teach math at a community college.  He liked the idea but was dismayed to find that his students knew almost no math.  Now he had found his destiny.  He would fix this problem.  How could he possibly do that?  By creating better textbooks.  He ended up creating a publishing empire that was sold for roughly $100,000,000 in 2004.

Saxon had a big heart, an exceptional mind, and a precise vision of how children can most quickly learn arithmetic.  Perhaps the indispensable trait is that he was a fighter.  He challenged the Education Establishment, offering to pay all expenses for head-to-head competitions.  He had no takers.  People said he should perhaps be more polite to the education professors.  Saxon said they didn't deserve it.  Their offerings were absurd.

Near the end of The Great Gatsby, the narrator shouts at Gatsby, "They're a rotten crowd.  You're worth the whole damn bunch put together."  Many Americans would like to shout the same words to John Saxon.

Saxon Math, since its debut in 1981, has proven successful with all "subgroups" of both boys and girls.  John Saxon is the only author and publisher of math textbooks to prove the effectiveness of his teaching methods and materials before selling his books to schools.  He field-tested his first book, an algebra textbook, in 22 Oklahoma schools under the supervision of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.  They gave it a rousing thumbs up.  That's when the establishment realized that it had a problem.  The big New York City publishers refused to publish his work.  The professors began a counter-attack.

American K–12 seems to be controlled by Progressive ideologues determined to dumb down the country.  This group bitterly demonized Saxon's ideas even though they were demonstrably superior.  And what is the  mechanism of that superiority?  Saxon believed in step-by-step instruction, with constant practice and testing to make sure students have truly understood the lessons, and constant recycling of all the main ideas.  Repetition is assumed to be the mother of instruction.  You learn, and then you learn again in a different context.  Students master math, and mathematics becomes a part of their lives.

Here's the clincher. It takes about two hours for teachers or parents to learn how to use Saxon Math effectively.  Teachers of progressive mathematics require a minimum of two weeks of costly training plus more "professional development" throughout the school year.  Two weeks of wading through gunk so you can teach gunk.

Nakonia (Niki) Hayes is the author of the only full biography of the  great man, John Saxon's Story, a genius of common sense in math education.  For many years she was a schoolteacher and school principal. She is a battle-tested veteran of the Math Wars. Now 80, she's still helping teachers and parents to survive these wars. (For a more complete story, visit her site.)

Niki Hayes cautions that revised versions of John Saxon's books published after 2007 are not acceptable.  Older versions can be found on the internet.  Publishers bought the rights to John Saxon's books apparently with the shameful goal of mangling them into conformity with Common Core approaches.

New Math (roughly 1962); Reform Math (many varieties, roughly 1985 and thereafter); and Common Core (more recently) share the same flawed theories and depressing results.  Children don't learn to master math.  They learn to hate math.  Indeed, the most touching part of the John Saxon story is that students loved math and loved the author. 

The Saxon story is a window into everything wrong and indeed corrupt throughout American K–12.  Proven methods are disdained and discarded.  Grotesque complexities doom most children to become innumerate.  They don't go on to advanced subjects.  And then, for years, we have to listen to disingenuous experts complain that America is neglecting STEM subjects.  More accurately, Common Core guarantees this outcome.

Protect your students.  Understand the evils that John Saxon set out to defeat.  Give your students textbooks designed to work. 

Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is  Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  A good gift.