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Rigor vs. Rigor Mortis

In her recent NCTM presidential statement (2/15/2013), Linda Gojak discussed "Whatís All This Talk about Rigor?" An aptly-timed topic.

She writes: "The word 'rigor' is widely used in policy discussions, but itís rarely understood or defined, and often it merely passes as code for 'better.' It is interesting that the term 'rigor' does not appear in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, although it is certainly implied." I am not sure the latter is so transparent!

But, I like the associated chart outlining characteristics of rigor:


Later, President Gojak makes an interesting observation (not evidence-based): "Students who are successful in a rigorous learning environment take responsibility for their learning. They learn to reflect on their thinking. They persist in solving a problem when the path to solution is not immediately obvious. They recognize when they are not on the correct path and need to switch directions during the solution process. Students must learn to ask productive questions rather than expecting to be shown how to proceed...."

My concerns (above and beyond the "G.G." nature of this statement):

  • What about the students who are "unsuccessful" in this environment...which I expect percentage-wise, would exceed those who are successful?
  • What about the great many math teachers (K-12) who are not professionally and personally equipped/committed to the inclusion of rigor?
  • What about all of those teachers, administrators, and parents who prefer the signs of "rigor" evidenced by the actions on the right-hand side of the chart?
  • What about the dominating-presence of math texts/resources that fall short of even a glimpse of rigor (just browse vendor booths at a NCTM meeting)?
So, despite a useful chart, we as a community of math educators get lost in the new 3 R's...Rithmetic, Rigor, and Rhetoric.