Academic Rigor: An Oxymoron
The year is 1947. The Cold War has begun, Roswell has a UFO incident, the first instant camera was invented, women’s dresses were starting to become lighter materials instead of wartime utility materials. Women were being squished back into the controlled feminine world of homemaking after finding a role model in Rosie.
Educationally: Our children were about to meet rigor. “The Truman Commission Report aimed to define the purpose of higher education in light of educational leaders’ “uneasy sense of shortcoming” in the system’s ability to keep “pace with changing social conditions” (President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, p. 1) (Francis, 2018). The response to a nation in grief was to incorporate The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (previously the GI Bill) with academic rigor. This makes perfect sense for 1947. This was a way to help our white, male, service folks to gain college degrees and leadership positions in the United States. These white men were used to taking orders, telling them what to learn and when was worked. Academic rigor in 1947 was wartime rhetoric.
Fast Forward A Million Years Later… 2020
How do we define rigor in education? How is rigor applied in education?
Draeger et al., (2013) stated there is no consensus as to definition or like assumptions in education as to the applications of rigor in education. The research discussed to this point fails to forward an effective pedagogy on the grounds of rigor and relevancy due to the lack of definition of the very term of rigor. Francis (2018) found two definitions of the term rigor and stated, “If an institution has no clear internal definition of academic rigor, then it may be difficult for that school to educate a growing student body with diverse educational needs” (Quaye & Harper, 2014). Rigor is too widely used to ascertain any specific understanding or definition in pedagogy. According to Francis (2018), effective pedagogy for intellectually gifted, above average and talented students, should not be based on the vague rigor, but on critical thinking and inquiry.
But, Finnish schools are amazing and discuss rigour‽‽ Indeed. Applying the Finnish educational lens you do see the word rigor. However, the term is not used ON students or ABOUT students but in discussing policy. Chong (2018) stated, “as a whole, the rigor in Finnish education policies is firmly secured with its broader cohesive equity-driven political consensus, and student support is perceived as subjective rights in the aim for educational equality, all of which contributes to some constancy in its progress towards a more inclusive education system (p. 10).” This is only a dream for current United States education. The day we can state, the United State of America has a policy firmly secured with its broader cohesive equity-driven political consensus, and student support is perceived as subjective rights in the aim for educational equality, all of which contributes to some constancy in its progress towards a more inclusive education system. An Amazing Dream!
Rigor. From the Latin, stiffness. Academic rigor is, therefore, an oxymoron. Rigor no longer belongs (never belonged) in the context of education. Rigor was a term used to white-wash post-war education. Academic Rigor is a notion that fails to take into context humanity, critical thinking, scaffolding, deeper thinking, creativity, and equity in education. Rigor cannot present equitable education for our children. Rigor can be used in Pavlovian attempts to educate children. Rigor cannot be inclusive of each and every one of our children. I am in doubt that you can apply Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan 2018), Connectivism (2004), or Critical Race Theory (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Pellar, & Thomas, 1995; Delgado & Stefanicic, 2000) to the use of rigor in academics. So, let's leave the stiffness and rigor, to the end of an era, or if you truly need it, just go watch the stiffs on CSI.
Chong, P. W. (2018). The Finnish “Recipe” Towards Inclusion: Concocting Educational Equity, Policy Rigour, and Proactive Support Structures. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 62(4), 501–518.doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/00313831 .2016.1258668
Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Pellar, G., & Thomas, K. (Eds.). (1995). Critical race theory. New York: New Press.
Delgado, R., & Stefanicic, J. (Eds.). (2000). Critical race theory: The cutting edge (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Draeger, J., Hill, P., del, P., Hunter, L. R., & Mahler, R. (2013). The anatomy of academic rigor: The story of one institutional journey. Innovative Higher Education, 38(4), 267– 279.doi.org/10.1007/s10755-012-9246-8
Francis, C. (2018). Academic Rigor in the College
Classroom: Two Federal Commissions Strive to Define Rigor in the Past 70 Years. New Directions for Higher Education, 2018(181), 25–34. doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/ 10.1002/he.20268
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved from http://www.itdl.org/