Saxon Math Curriculum Review

Saxon Math is very popular with the home school world, and is also used in some public and private schools in the USA

Saxon Math: Facts vs. Rumors

I am 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 Math texts as “New Age” and urging others to boycott them.

The original letter writers had a point, though they certainly were not taking the best way to express it. The original Saxon Math 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.

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 Math.

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 Math 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 Math 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 is talking about (that is the whole point, as he is 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 is not Christian, take me out and shoot me!
  2. Saxon Math 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 is not willing to take the trouble of consulting the encyclopedia.
  3. The references to fairies, etc. are not only few and far between (some books do not 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 does not believe in these beings!

Questions and Answers

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 do not 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?
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!

To read John Saxons answers to these issues, please proceed to our Saxon Math - John Saxon Speaks page.

You can find the Saxon Math placement tests at: Saxon Math — Placement Tests

You can buy the Saxon Math books at a discount from: Christianbook.com — Saxon Math Curriculum
(We receive an modest commission if you click through and buy.)