Sunday, January 14, 2007

Raising the Bar, Rigor, and HW

Mayo writes:

I'm reading The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn. The book raises a lot of interesting issues about homework, and also about the supposed raising of standards. I've been uncomfortable with the way the word "rigor" has been tossed about so much lately. Some thoughts on the topic appear in the book:

"...some parents seem to figure that as long as their kids have lots of stuff to do every night, never mind what it is, then learning must be taking place. Educational quality is assumed to be synonymous with "rigor," and rigor, in turn, is thought to be reflected by the quantity and difficulty of assignments." (20)

Kohn writes about how the term "raising the bar" comes from showing horses and how that ought to cause us to stop and think. He adds:

"It's not just the etymology of the term "raising the bar" that should provoke questions, for example; it's the fact that this phrase signals an agenda of doing the same thing we've always done in classrooms, except now with fewer kids being likely to succeed. Almost a century ago, John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do "resides in its connection with a stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes." (122)

I'm wondering where most of QHST's teachers stand on the concept of "rigor" and on the homework question.


W Brown said...

Ever since the ISA Summer institute this past year I have been racking my brain about why the word "rigor" bothers me so much....Do affluent Long Isalnd schools have to be concerned about "rigor" in the classroom? Or are only urban schools held to this myth?

Ms. Mayo said...

Yes, LI schools are concerned, and they believe they are rigorous because they give a lot of homework and a lot of tests.

What bothers me about rigor is the definition. According to

rig·or (rĭg'ər) Pronunciation Key
Strictness or severity, as in temperament, action, or judgment.
A harsh or trying circumstance; hardship. See Synonyms at difficulty.
A harsh or cruel act.
Medicine Shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill.
Physiology A state of rigidity in living tissues or organs that prevents response to stimuli.
Obsolete Stiffness or rigidity.

W Brown said...

I just never see newspaper articles concerned about "rigor" in LI schools.

Ms. Mayo said...

Probably because kids are successful in those schools in spite of the schooling. It almost doesn't matter what goes on in the school. If the kids are passing the tests, nobody is worried about "rigor."

The reality of class is often ignored. Socioeconomic status is key. The naivete that accompanies crap like NCLB is astounding. Actually, it's probably not naivete...