Every time somebody uses it at work, I want to say to them that the word doesn't actually mean what they think it means.
Joanne Yatvin feels the same way:
There is one word I dislike so intensely when used in connection with education that I can’t remain silent under any circumstances. That word is “rigor.”
Part of my reaction is emotional, having so often heard “rigor” paired with “mortis.” The other part is logical, stemming from the literal meanings of rigor: harshness, severity, strictness, inflexibility and immobility. None of these things is what I want for students at any level. And, although I don’t believe that the politicians, scholars or media commentators who use the word so freely really want them, either, I still reproach them for using the wrong word and the wrong concept to characterize educational excellence.
Now, more than ever, “rigor” is being used to promote the idea that American students need advanced course work, complex texts, stricter grading, and longer school days and years in order to be ready for college or the workplace. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) already adopted by 45 states, were designed for rigor and will inexorably lead to it in all forms in almost all classrooms.
Since I believe it is time for a better word and a better concept to drive American education, I recommend “vigor.” Here my dictionary says, “active physical or mental force or strength, healthy growth; intensity, force or energy.” And my mental association is to all the Latin-based words related to life.
How much better our schools would be if they provided students with classes and activities throbbing with energy, growth and life. Although school buildings have walls, there should be no walls separating students from vigorous learning. No ceilings, either.
To learn vigorously, students need more than academic skills and knowledge, more than the generalities and hypotheticals found in textbooks and workbooks. By reading newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, even the daily comics and Internet articles; and by getting to know people of all ages, types of work, and cultural backgrounds they can learn about the real world they live in. Although it is not practical to send hordes of children and teen-agers out into that world to learn all the things they need to know, many more in-school classes and supplemental activities can be vigorous.
In short, "rigor" is associated with inflexibility, stiffness, harshness and death; "vigor" is associated with energy, health and life.
The owners and operators of the Common Core Federal Standards surely chose the right word (though undoubtedly by accident) when they decided to describe their work on standards as "full of rigor."