I feel that it is time we re-assess what we want for our children in this world and re-think how we talk about education. Words are important, because language is a gift from God for the building of community and culture with others.
The reason I advocate a vigorous education, rather than a rigorous one, is obvious with a quick look at the root meanings of these words. The Latin word vigor means the "fullness of life," while the word rigor means "stiffness of death." When used in relationship to education "rigorous" means something like this: strict adherence to rules and very challenging goals. There is nothing wrong with this--in some areas and in certain situations--but not in the raising and training of a child's mind.
Consider the use of these adjectives in other contexts besides our K-12 education:
Water and sun provide vigorous plant growth. ...There are times and places for "rigorous training," but I think it is unfortunate that we sometimes use it to refer to our children's overall education--or to the atmosphere in schools. Each of our children has different talents and their minds develop at different rates, so it is clear that there needs to be great flexibility in their education. The best learning environment is a place to study amidst loving and committed human relationships, whether that's in a family or a small school. Deep and wide development of language does not happen in a rigid and impersonal environment.
The cadet receives rigorous training in military procedures...
But please don't be offended if you use this term (rigorous) with education a lot; even though its original use was to refer to rigid and unbending guidelines, it is now used more to mean that there will be some standards applied! Discipline sought and worthy goals set up, etc. In our day language training has gotten so 'loosey-goosey' that the pendulum needs to swing back. I get that. As John Piper says in an article at Christianity Today:
This is an overwhelming argument for giving our children a disciplined and rigorous training in how to think an author's thoughts after him from a text—especially a biblical text.A disciplined training in language arts, and in other subjects, is desirable and may need to have the highest standards, but please could we get away from the word that comes from the noun that means the "stiffness of death!" In our homes we should seek a vigorous, lively, literary education. I challenge you to look up the meaning of "vigor" and of "rigor." Think about what they mean and consider how your education plan can be more vigorous than rigorous.
Let's inspire and cultivate the vigor of life in our children's minds and hearts, which will lead them to live in a creative and loving way, and therefore, in a God honoring way.