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Rigor vs Vigor | Ecology of EducationEcology of Education

Rigor vs Vigor

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I hear parents, teachers, administrators and politicians speak about education a lot, and too often I hear them speak of the need for more rigor in school.

Before blindly accepting the need for more rigor, I would like us to look more closely at the definition of rigor:

  • strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
  • severity of living conditions; hardship; austerity: the rigor of wartime existence
  • obsolete. stiffness or rigidity.
  • a state of rigidity in living tissues or organs that prevents response to stimuli.

Consider some of the synonyms for rigor:

  • inflexibility
  • stringency
  • cruelty
  • pain

Does any of the above sound like a good description of a learning environment you would want for you child?

Honestly, I would hope not.

In an interview with Learning Matters, Phillip Kovacs (columnist for suggests we replace rigor with vigor.

Consider the defintions for vigor:

  • active strength or force.
  • healthy, physical or mental energy or power; vitality.
  • energetic activity; energy; intensity: the economic recovery has give the country a new vigor.
  • force of healthy growth in any living matter or organism, as a plant.

Consider some of vigor’s synonyms:

  • drive
  • strength
  • force
  • flourish
  • vitality

Doesn’t vigor sound like a far more engaging and purposeful learning environment?

You could make the case that this is simple semantics, but I believe language matters – and the words we associate with learning and teaching should be chosen very carefully. I believe this to be true simply because today’s educational reforms -unfortunately – are more apt to reflect rigor than vigor.

~Joe Bower

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Author:Joe Bower

Joe is a middle school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. Joe works to challenge 'traditional' schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. He believes students should experience their success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. He is also the author of For the Love of Learning @