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On Rigor

When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend.

Joshua Foer: Moonwalking with Einstein

In classical schools much is made of academic rigor, and no wonder given the sloth and lack of interest in what we would call education in so much of the wider culture. Rigor, however, must be purposeful. If we don’t know what we are equipping students for, then we are like Soviet concentration camps that would have people dig up and then fill in holes to keep them busy.

Sometimes rigor takes less time than sloth. In fact, it always does. The difference is that right rigor gets things done and sloth doesn’t.

Rigor doesn’t mean, in other words, more time. It means more focus. It means imitating great works instead of silly ones. It means translating difficult challenges instead of tedious ones. It means jumping into that gap between what we know and what we don’t know, between what is easy and what is impossible, between what we understand and what is incomprehensible, and swimming for our lives. There is no other way to become a good thinker, student, writer, decision-maker, or communicator.

You must fail. It is the only way you can succeed.

What skills are being cultivated? What do you want your students to get good at? Can you help them get good at it? Are you? Are you getting the training needed to become good and to help them improve?

These are accountability questions that can guide us toward excellence.

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