The Classical Difference: Academic Rigor

Many of today’s schools have lost the vision, or even understanding, of what academic rigor is and what it looks like in the classroom. Gaston Caperton, President of the College Board which administers the SAT and AP tests, states, “It is our hope that the AP program can serve as an anchor for increasing rigor in our schools.  Rigor can be maintained by increasing student participation.” Unfortunately, I do not believe AP classes or tests represent true rigor, and more students participating in AP classes is not a sign of increased rigor. AP classes require the memorization of a mass amount of information but not necessarily the understanding of it. If modern schools want to increase rigor, they need to begin well before high school.

When my son was in 10th grade, he took AP European History. History is a subject I love, so my son would often ask me to help him study for his tests. This class was no more than a prep class for the AP test, which requires the memorization of a lot of facts but very little analysis. European History was being taught as unrelated people and events that only need to be committed to memory. As a classical school administrator, that is a glaring red flag! Students in high school are well beyond the grammar stage of learning. They no longer find joy in just learning the facts. They want to know why these things happened and should be fully capable of making a coherent, logical analysis of them.

But, I digress. So, my son was learning about Nietzsche, and all he needed to know was that he was a German philosopher, alive from 1844-1900 and that he wrote that God is dead. The next year we moved my son to a private liberal arts school. Because their academic track was different than the public school, he had to retake European History. This school required students to read primary sources rather than mere memorization of facts. My son was expected to read some of Nietzsche’s work. He came home animated one day asking, “Why don’t they have the students in public schools read Nietzsche’s work? Most students believe what he is propounding but do not understand the results. He has spelled them all out for them, and they are completely unaware!” This is the problem with confusing passing an AP test and true academic rigor. One requires basic knowledge, and one needs a thoughtful analysis of that knowledge.

To achieve true academic rigor, you must start with asking why. Why do we have high standards? What is the purpose of this rigor? At The Geneva School, we believe academic rigor, in a Christian context, will lead to virtue. That is is why rigor is important. God created us to be intellectually curious. School work is the work that God gives our children to do. When done for Him, in a way that honors how we are created, the results are beautiful, create joy in the student, and result in a lifelong love of learning.

Click here for The Geneva School’s full K-8th academic plan.