Thursday, June 20, 2013

Vigor vs. Rigor

Over the weekend I joined the "Badass Teachers Association" on Facebook.  This page was started Friday night.  It is now Thursday, and the group has over 7,700 members.  It is clear from what I have seen thus far that teachers are fed up and, at least this group is, ready to take back their profession.

Someone in the group posted about the frustration with buzzwords such as "rigor."  Later on in the thread, another member wrote about how she tells folks she prefers "vigor."  As I thought about that, a few posts down, someone posted a link to the definition of rigor.  So I clicked on it.  Here is how rigor is defined according to Merriam-Webster:

rig•or  noun  
1 a (1): harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgement: severity  (2): the quality of being unyielding or inflexible: strictness  (3): severity of life: austerity
   b: an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
2: a tremor caused by a chill
3: a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially : extremity of cold
4: strict precision : exactness
5 a obsolete: rigidity, stiffness
   b: rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
   c: rigor mortis

Wow.  Really?  Goodness!  I don't know about you, but this sure as heck is NOT how I would like anyone to describe my classroom!  So of course, this led me to look up vigor:

vig•or  noun
1: active bodily or mental strength or force
2: active healthy well-balanced growth especially of plants
3: intensity of action or effect: force
4: effective legal status

Now that's more like it!  My next move was to Google rigor vs. vigor.  Apparently many others in education have thought of this one before. Blogger Joe Bower asks us to consider the synonyms for both words.  For rigor, we have inflexibility, stringency, cruelty, and pain.  For vigor, we have drive, strength, force, flourish, and vitality.  Clearly we want our classrooms to reflect a vigorous curriculum rather than a rigorous one.  Don't we?

Joanne Yatvin wrote on this subject, and it was published in Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet in The Washington Post.  Joanne Yatvin is one of my heroes.  She was a member of the National Reading Panel in 1998 - the only teacher.  Dissatisfied with the rushed process and narrow definitions of literacy, she wrote a minority report expressing her concerns.  (Her story is told in the book Silent No More: Voices of Courage in American Schools.)  I cannot help but wonder if her story mirrors the acceptance of the word "rigor" to describe a goal we would like to achieve for our students.  Did this start somewhere in a small room with a group of policy makers trying to decide on the next silver bullet in education?  Or maybe a typo was made somewhere along the line?  Maybe the original word was vigor, and the policy makers were too embarrassed to admit the error?

In reading further, I found an article from 2008 by Tony Wagner in ASCD's Educational Leadership.  "Rigor Redefined" summarizes Wagner's seven survival skills - what people require in the new world of work.  These skills are:

1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
2. Collaboration and Leadership
3. Agility and Adaptability
4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
7. Curiosity and Imagination

Of course these are not the skills emphasized in schools today.  Test prep is where it's at.  And this is where the change needs to occur.  A rigorous education, according to Wager, encompasses the skills listed above.  But it seems somewhere along the way, "rigor" has come to simply mean harder and more difficult, in larger quantities.

Now, could this be because too many people associate academic rigor with the actual meaning of the word rigor?  I mean, that makes sense, doesn't it?  Why do education theorists and policy makers choose terminology that does not accurately describe what we want to achieve in education?  WHY?  I still think it was supposed to be vigor.  Someone somewhere should be fired for this one.  Because, unfortunately, something that started out as a good thing for students and teachers has been disfigured and warped and convoluted to the point where the term "rigor" only brings about eye-rolling and heavy sighs from educators.  And that is a shame.  The intent was good.

Which brings me back to the Badass Teachers Association.  As this group continues to grow by the second, so does its power.  Maybe we will be able to come together as a cohesive unit and exercise some of that power.  Maybe even change "rigor" to "vigor."  You know, so we say-what-we-mean and mean-what-we-say.  So we are at least in agreement with the dictionary for crying out loud!

1 comment:

  1. i've used both words, and like them both. sometimes one needs "rigor" to weed out the one-offs, where exceptions begin to swallow the rule. other times, when in an academic / professional environment, "vigor" is an exceptional state one should encourage for that creative tension. Anyhoo, nice write-up and spot-on.