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Let’s Ditch “Rigor” for Excellence in Education

Teach on the Edge

Tiffany Della Vedova


There is a great deal of positive energy abuzz in the education community. For all its needed reform, there is talent and creativity galore. There is professionalism, unified in purpose and diverse in solution. And there is excellence on the universal horizon of the future, a shared destination.

But there is also a great universal regard for this word “rigor” which could derail our path to excellence and ground our standards in cement. In “Making Sure They Are Learning”, a video posted on Edutopia’s social media feed, teacher Sarah Kaufman is profiled for her use of Post-Its to authentically assess students “where they are.” The method is flexible, differentiated, creative, and yes, authentic. Students in the video are engaged, on different “pages”, at various points of skill development...all moving towards the same high standard. The word used to describe Sarah’s class was “rigorous,” but none of its remarkable qualities match up with any definition of that term...and it’s a good thing! As defined by Merriam-Webster:

Rig or:
a: (1) harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :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 <logical rigor>

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If we ask any educator whether the pinnacle of education would be inflexible, severe, or strict standards, I have to imagine (or at least hope) the answer would be a resounding No! If a parent came into our school and asked what we could provide for her child, I have to imagine (or again, hope) the answer sought would not be a severe, harsh, or cruel environment. Even the closest definition to our classroom application of the term, strict precision implies no nimbleness of thought or action. Do we truly aspire to logical rigor?

But do not fret word lovers! There is indeed a word, familiar to all, the definition of which would resonate as ideal to every educator, parent, or student.

Ex cel lence:
1: the quality of being excellent
2: an excellent or valuable quality : virtue

Words are powerful things. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.” Education is a process through which we hope to enable students to shine. Let’s pick a shinier word to describe it!


Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 24 September 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rigor>.