Words to Replace "Rigor" and "Rigorous"

Is teaching my students words in
Lingít rigorous or not? Why would you
even use that word to judge its value?
I think many educators in the U.S., and perhaps elsewhere in the English-speaking world, are all asking the same question:

What are some words I can use instead of "rigor" and "rigorous"?

As most of us know, using the word "rigor" has become a big fad over the last few years. Every curriculum should have rigor; every teacher should be more rigorous. I've even caught myself thinking those things. Doesn't it just sound better for a lesson to be more rigorous?

When you actually look up the definition of "rigor," though, it doesn't sound like what educators should pursue:


I'd like to think that teachers today don't believe their students will benefit from having the most strict education possible: A classroom with unbreakable rules, unwavering routine, and no room for change does not sound like a very positive place for students to learn, grow, and explore. In fact, this article by Tony Wagner called "Rigor Redefined" list seven important skills for students to learn, and all of them have to with adaptability and change. The article only uses the word "rigor" twice, without redefining it at all. In fact, this video of Wagner speaking on the same subject doesn't use the word at all. I think it was just tossed into the article to grab attention.  

This top-Google-hit definition at "The Glossary of Education Reform" does a pretty good job of showing what sort of mess we're in, playing along with using the word "rigor." The page acknowledges the awkward real definition of the word as "stiffness" and "rigidity," but then spends paragraphs claiming that educators use it to mean good things like encouraging flexible thinking and being "stimulating, engaging, and supportive." Why the hell is this word supposedly being used to mean the exact opposite of what it means?

It's because "rigor" and "rigorous" were picked out as Newspeak buzzwords by those pushing for "education reform." When you end up looking at all its uses and ambiguity, "rigor" is basically just used to mean whatever "reformers" want to accuse teachers of lacking. Ultimately, the definition and use of "rigor" is not rigorous at all.

So, to deliver on the promise made in my title, here are some words that I believe educators should use in place of "rigor" and "rigorous." Whatever words you use all depend on the context, of course, and being as specific as possible is always best.

Instead of "rigor," use difficulty, focus, challenge, opportunity, structure, or intensity.

Instead of "rigorous," use challenging, innovative, demanding, intense, concentrated, or provocative.

Don't hop on the "rigor" bandwagon. Abandon the word and its accompanying mess—unless you're talking about a corpse.

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