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I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …

<tenting hands à la cartoon villain>  … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …

Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:

AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)

FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY  –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)

PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.

ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.

TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.

OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.

PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)

None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.

*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.

5 thoughts on Rigorrrrrrrrrr

  1. There is no use of the word rigor that means something good to kids. I think obduracy gets my bid, it actually sounds like it means (which is something I really enjoy.) P

    1. And I have NEVER ever EVER used the word rigor in a sentence with my students, unless I’m quoting Edgar Allan Poe.

      Can you imagine …

      ME: Today’s lesson is going to be all sorts of rigorous!

      STUDENTS: *blink … blink*

  2. Were you at NETA when the Keynote speaker man in brightly colored (yellow?) pants talked about rigor and the definition of being dead? I love how you took that a step further to come up with so many words that could be better! Either way, I think the word we’re all trying to avoid here is curriculum that is boring! I am so glad our paths have crossed. GREAT blog!

    1. Yes! That’s Dean Shareski. He’s awesome! The first time it occurred to me that it reminded me of corpses is the first time I heard it (on the cusp of its emergence as buzzword) used in the context of curriculum. It was introduced as one of three of the new “R’s” in education: Rigor, Relevance, and … um … Research? Readability? Relationships? I don’t know/care. Ha! I definitely had to have that someone explain what she meant by “upping the rigor”. Now that word is everywhere we turn. You’re right: Just because curriculum is challenging does not mean it is boring. Most teachers I know are anti-boring. 🙂 AND … I’m very glad we’ve met too. I’m learning so much from you. 🙂


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