Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rigor vs.Vigor

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.


  1. I agree with you overall, especially as this relates to education. But rigor does have more meanings, things like carefulness, exactness, ...

    I just checked, and they agree with you. I'm thinking about mathematics (not math education, though), where we try to make sure everything is correct through the rigor of our proof process.

  2. I agree with you. If we increase rigor, we will make kids hate learning and hate school in general. I teach middle school language arts, and I believe that is part of my job to help kids fall in love with literature and remove roadblocks in reading and writing, so they can see how those two things will open doors for them to do what they the love to do. If I teach with vigor and use language like that in the classroom, they are far less likely to tune me out. Great post!

  3. I have not commented as readily on rigor in some ways, but vigor has been on the tip of my tongue on many occasions in the last year. Well said.

  4. Joe,
    I've been wrestling with these terms myself, and three years after you posted this, the term is still taking firm hold, especially among so many well-meaning educators. It just came up in the #21stedchat last night when I suggested vigor over rigor, one educator responded with not wanting to get into an argument over semantics. I just searched Google for "rigor vigor" and this was the first post in the results. I always say, "Language means everything." It does. I never want my own children subjected to rigor in the name of learning, and I don't want to subject others' to it either. Vigor is such a powerful concept to strive for. Perhaps this debate needs to be picked up by more of us, pointed out when we see it, vigorously pushing to remove rigor from our learning lexicon.

  5. It seems to me that vigor implies effort which, on its own, does not necessarily correlate with effectiveness. Rigor implies thoroughness which, I believe, is the more suitable term