I’m back in Australia, my 13th trip “Down Under,” and it’s interesting how things seem to be tracking backwards here on a national level. As in “back(wards) to basics” a la this piece in The Australian: National Primary Curriculum Shifts Focus to Core Skills (paywall). Here’s a quote from Aussie Education Minister Christopher Pyne:
Mr Pyne said a “strong, robust and rigorous curriculum” was one of the most important factors in lifting student outcomes and promoting a quality education. He said the Abbott government was decluttering the curriculum in primary schools to give young students a “laser-like focus’’ on the core skills of literacy and numeracy.
Can’t help but wonder what will be lost to the “decluttering” process.
Contrast that to this description from Rob Riordan titled “Rigor Reconsidered” in the Spring edition of “Unboxed,” the High Tech High magazine:
This is where rigor resides—not in complexity of prescribed content, or persistence in meaningless tasks, but rather in the moment-to-moment decisions students and teachers make, and the dispositions and relationships they develop, as they pursue their interests and passions in the world. Luis and others like him challenge us to develop a new set of rules for rigor:
No rigor without engagement
No rigor without ownership
No rigor without exemplars
No rigor without audiences
No rigor without purpose
No rigor without dreams
No rigor without courage AND
No rigor without fun
I doubt that most policy makers like Australia’s Pyne would think about rigor in these terms, yet to me this aligns almost perfectly to what Seymour Papert used to call “hard fun.” I especially love this sentiment:
These rapidly changing times challenge educators to find areas of work that are hard in the right way: they must connect with the kids and also with the areas of knowledge, skills and (don’t let us forget) ethic adults will need for the future world.
When the task at hand has meaning for us, when we are interested in it, when it challenges us, that’s when “rigor” is useful. That’s when it becomes “hard fun” instead of just hard. For some reason, we seem loathe to accept a rigor of purpose to be the equal (or better) of the rigor of persistence. Not that both aren’t useful, but the former is where real, sticky learning lives.