The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Schools Need More Vigor Than Rigor

on May 22, 2020

Although my years in the classroom are long past, I am still a cranky English teacher who bristles at some of the words that have crept into our language. I never tack “ly” onto number words, or say “myself” when I mean “me.” I won’t use “access” or “impact” as verbs because I consider them to be only nouns. I remain quiet when others commit grammatical transgressions.  But there is one word I dislike intensely when it’s used in connection with education, and that word is “rigor”.

One part of my reaction to the word “rigor” is emotional, because I often hear it paired with “mortis’. The other part is logical, stemming from the  meanings of rigor, harshness, severity, strictness and inflexibility.  None of those things are what I want for students, and although I cant believe  politicians, scholars and media commentators really want them either,  I still reproach them for using  wrong words and concepts to characterize education excellence.

Rigor has been used recently to promote the idea that American students need advanced courses, complex texts, and longer school days in order to be ready for college. But so far, rigorous practices under the federal “No Child Left Behind” act”, the “Common Core Standards”, and the school reform plans havent raised test scores or improved the graduation rates.

Since I think it’s time for a better word and concept to drive American education, I recommend “vigor”, which my dictionary says means physical force, healthy growth, or greater energy. And my mental association is to the Latin-based words related to life. How much better our schools would be if they had classroom activities throbbing with energy and growth

Although schools have walls, there should be no separation of students from vigorous learning. To learn they need experience with knowledge from multiple sources rather than just textbooks, but they also need to talk with people of different ages and backgrounds, learn traditional school skills, and taste the skills of farmers, craftsmen, athletes, and business managers.

Instead of aiming for higher test scores, schools should give more attention to what students have been taught. All grade level schools should encourage students to demonstrate their learning, which is serving meals in school lunchrooms, checking out books in the school library, organizing playground games, making items to sell in stores, planting vegetables in school gardens, painting murals in school halls, or adopting a nearby road. Schools should also encourage students to write poetry, post political cartoons,  and work with adults on community projects.

As a result of the vigor those activities represent, there will come intellectual intensity, precision, alertness, expertise and integrity that the critics of education call for. Those habits of mind, body, and spirit are the true heart of education excellence. When education has ben well taught, it also becomes the hart of life, while rigor remains to be the sign of early death.

3 responses to “Schools Need More Vigor Than Rigor

  1. Jane Watson says:

    Wonderful post – agree with “vigor!”

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  2. Jane Watson says:

    Wonderful post! Agree – we need to use the word vigor! Take care – great to hear from you!


  3. berniemon13 says:

    Excellent article, so true!


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