Chatboards
Mailrings
Classifieds
Lessons
Jobs
Harry Wong
Projects
Live!
Gazette
Advertise
SUBSCRIBE | SUBMIT
December 2014
Vol 11 No 12
BACK ISSUES


Rigor v. Vigor

By Todd R. Nelson
 

I’ve been using the wrong word.

So I was intrigued by a vocabulary distinction brought to light by a school director in Pennsylvania, who challenged the use of “rigor” to describe quality education. Amy Vorenberg recommends it be replaced by “vigor.”

We are fairly accepting of the use of the word “rigor” as a positive term for high standards and accomplishments in lots of things, including education. As it turns out, “vigor” might be a much better choice—at least a more inspiring term for what we want schools and scholars to achieve, and what we want a learning community to feel like.

“Consider the possibilities of academic vigor,” writes Vorenberg. “Is it not our goal to engage students as active, energetic learners? To empower students to think boldly and intensely about math concepts or scientific inquiries? Isn’t it our greatest satisfaction when students apply their intellectual and creative energy to problem solving in ways that inspire and extend our own understanding as teachers? I believe that we strive not for rigor but for vigorous growth, both mental and physical….”

As I parsed Vorenberg’s dichotomy, the less creativity and spirit I saw in rigor. Sure, there’s a certain calculated cleanness and crisp clarity—and a place for its sense of accuracy and thoroughness. But when I think of the mission of schools and learning, I have to feel drawn towards that indwelling sense of growth, newness, health and possibility I hear in vigor. Imposed and strict, versus enthusiastic and energetic. Dickens versus Rowling?

“What’s in a [word]? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” Yes, in the abstract. But we also live in imaginary gardens—in a meadow with wild flowers, where dandelions are as good as orchids. Here at ground level, we don’t deliberate for long about “reject” and “denounce,” but we know the sound of vigor like the crack of bat hitting a line drive past second base.

My 30 years experience in elementary schools corroborates the wisdom in making the switch from rigor to vigor. Schools I’ve visited or worked in that felt the most alive, challenging, and inspiring are the ones that live the difference.

Rigor is a good word for intense practice, rehearsal, the routines that build muscle or agility or self-control. Think of piano scales, running laps, hitting backhands over and over against the wall, memorizing poems or play parts, touch typing lessons or calligraphy. But rigor is not enough. Vigor is the application of these: the improvised piano solo, the new personal best in the 100 yard dash, beating a better player in tennis, reciting that lyric poem or soliloquy with feeling and understanding, unleashing that pent-up ten page short story or delicate Haiku that needs one-of-a-kind flourishes of the pen. Vigor is the sum of our parts, the point on the graph where ability intersects with challenge; the zone where we accomplish what we’ve sought and prepared to accomplish; the project, or performance, or problem in which we are effective…and know it.

No wonder we feel most vigorous in spring: our torpid roots are suddenly yearning to work and a little careful pruning encourages new growth. Sugar is moving just under the bark. Vigor is syrup. Have you seen a sixth or seventh grade boy recently? They’re like forsythia or lilacs that have been forced and suddenly yellow is bursting forth well ahead of their cousins with latent, frost-bound roots! Vigor is the sounds of the jazz band players learning to play Van Morrison’s “Moondance” for the jazz fest, their first time in the competition and planning their individual turns at a solo. Van’s the Man. So’s vigor.

Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, PA.



Comment on this article...

Next Article...
 
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 and is filed under *ISSUES, February 2011, Todd Nelson. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.8 No.2 February 2011

Harry & Rosemary Wong: Effective Teaching
Even Shakespeare Had Structure
Procedures evolve as needs change, but the need students have for structure and reliability has never been more pressing....


Cover Story by Todd Nelson
Rigor v. Vigor?
We don't deliberate for long about "reject" and "denounce," but we know the sound of vigor like the crack of bat hitting a line drive past second base....

Articles
»The End of the Male Teacher: Seniority RulesAlan Haskvitz
»At-Risk Kids - Gloom, Despair, Misery, and PainBill Page
»When Students Play Tricks on the Substitute TeacherBarbara Pressman
»Transform Envelopes into "iPods" to Store Math FlashcardsHeidi Samuelson
»How Can I Present an Image of Strength? Advice for SubsBarbara Pressman
»5 Web Sites for Busy EducatorsMarjan Glavac
»Classroom Storage Ideas - A Baker's Dozen!Susan Fitzell
»Apple Seeds - Quotes for EducatorsBarb Stutesman
»Reality Shows About School - LearningLaffsHumorist John P. Wood
»How to Use Peer Mediation as an Alternative to Traditional Disciplinary PracticesLeah Davies
»Foot Theme: Seuss, Animal Tracks, Math, Read Across America
»The Rant of the Ancient Mariner: I Would Have Learned if I CouldBill Page
»Quotable T-Netters
»Lessons, Activities: Dr. Seuss, Read Across America, Lincoln, Black History
»Substitute Teaching A - Z
»Recipes for the Crock Pot - Beef Stroganoff, Chuck Roast
»Academic Rigor - Barbara Blackburn
»Short Month, Long on Special DaysRon Victoria
»Links & Likes
»Substitute Teaching (pt 2)
»Lessons: Mitten Math, Hat Glyph, Hibernation, Calendar, more!
»Norman Rockwell Digital Art Collection Now Available Online
»Is Your Teaching Voice Too Loud? Here's Advice
»Printables for PreK - 12 Teachers

By State
AL   AK   AZ   AR   CA   CO   CT   DE   DC   FL   GA   HI   ID   IL   IN   IA   KS   KY   LA    ME   MD   MA   MI   MN   MS   MO   MT   NE   NV   NH   NJ   NM   NY   NC   ND   OH   OK   OR   PA   RI   SC   SD   TN   TX   UT   VT     VA   WA   WV   WI   WY