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.