Parents and school districts across the nation are grappling with the academia’s adopted term “rigor.” Rigor is traditionally defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict.” Denotatively, rigor refers to the necessity of maintaining discipline and achieving precision. Connotatively, rigor in education identifies the need to demand the highest standards of and institute the requirement that school children push themselves to the limit of their mental endurance. Rigor in education is what is non-negotiable should parents and school systems want their students to succeed in this highly-sophisticated global economy.
No longer are America’s students competing against their peers domestically, they are competing against kids from across the globe. The best way to meet this daunting challenge is to accept nothing less than everyone’s best effort. Too often students are satisfied with achieving “decent” grades. This places a burden not only on their parents that already realize the world after school is a tough place, it also burdens teachers that must encourage intellectual growth in their often non-receptive pupils.
21st century teachers must become educational leaders in their classrooms. They must accept only the best that their students are able to propound. Every teacher must establish a curriculum that is intellectually stimulating, highly-relevant to students’ lives, and they must not allow any students to waste their potential. Easier said than done? Of course this is a challenging proposition. Perhaps we need to reverse course for a moment and identify what rigor in education looks like in real terms.
What Does Rigor Look Like in the Classroom?
Rigor in education looks like an English teacher that asks higher-order critical thinking questions instead of accepting basic summations of assigned readings. It looks like science teachers demanding more than the basic reproduction of an experiment. Instead, they will need to ask the students to deconstruct an experiment and define the processes that cause a reaction to occur and do so in granular terms that demonstrate their understanding of the process(es) involved. History teachers should assign analytical essays on a weekly basis. Relying on textbooks for rote learning is just the beginning and should never be the endpoint. Mathematics teachers should mandate that students prove their work by showing the process by which they have arrived at a given solution. Math students should also apply their skills to solving real world problems. Schools might consider adding rigor to foreign language programs by restoring Latin as a viable alternative to Spanish, or by paying teachers to be able to offer four years of the language as opposed to merely two.
Rigor is the Solution
Essentially, rigor in education is the solution to America’s education deficit which is widening daily. Instead of allowing children to earn high grades regardless of their actual achievement(s), and rather making excuses for poor standardized test results, schools should implement rigorous assignments across the curriculum. There is no justification for passing students that have not mastered the assigned material. In order to be competitive in a global economy, America’s school children need to be challenged, more needs to be asked of them intellectually, and they must be led down the path of self-sufficiency. Settling for second best may imperil a child’s ability to achieve their goals be they social, cultural or financial. Rigor in the classroom is the solution.