Let’s Talk About Rigor

So far, I’ve taught eight years of AP English Lit and two years of AP English Language.  This past week, along with some of my new middle school colleagues, I attended four days of pre-AP training, as my assignment this year will likely include two classes of pre-AP 7 and one class of pre-AP 8.

I am convinced, based on time spent at AP institutes and this new pre-AP training, that the presenters get paid by the number of times they use the word rigor.  

This is painful and scary to me, and I’ll tell you why.

First, a definition…

rigor (noun): (1): harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :severity   (2) : the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :strictness   (3) : severity of life : austerity

When we use this term to describe what’s going on in our classrooms, I think one of three things must be happening:

Thing #1: We are making a conscious decision to be harsh, inflexible, perhaps even a little cruel, out of a sense that this is needed to whip youngsters into shape in preparation for the real world.

Thing #2: We are, in fact, not engaging in deliberate cruelty but rather deliberate dishonesty. We say rigor to convince parents, administrators, and others that ours is a curriculum that will undoubtedly produce achievers.

Thing #3: We don’t actually have a clue what the word means or what it implies for our students.  It’s a buzzword, and we like those.

In the name of rigor, we’ve excused all manner of educational sins, and I think it’s time to excise the word from our collective vocabulary.

I am not suggesting that we should expect less from our students.  What I am suggesting is that we challenge our students with meaningful, purposeful work.  And we should challenge ourselves to do better than just pile on.