David Randall writes for the Martin Center about the importance of maintaining academic rigor.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just published the latest assault on academic standards, Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy’s “It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor’.” Jack teaches rhetoric and comparative literature, Sathy psychology and neuroscience; both teach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their article cloaks a radical ‘equity’ agenda in education-school jargon. Their current practice likely damages teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill. And their larger ambitions, if successful, will cripple American higher education. Even more serious, Jack and Sathy’s assault on rigor will remove the very ideal of excellence from our colleges.

Set aside these implications for the moment. Jack and Sathy’s argument is not convincing simply taken as a pedagogical manifesto. It blends the trivial truism, the unintended confession, the wrong-headed recommendation, and the obscured agenda.

Start with the trivial truisms: Teachers should grade fairly. The vast majority of professors do this already. Jack and Sathy repeat the obvious, and their recommendation requires no pedagogical revolution. The authors also suggest that teachers shouldn’t grade harshly because they believe that culling is an end rather than a tool. While true, Jack and Sathy discount the possibility that teachers accurately assess the utility of strict culling as a proxy for good standards. They express disapproval of a STEM instructor for saying “That instructor has too many high grades on their exams; they are obviously not being rigorous enough.” Perhaps the STEM instructor knows his business better than Jack and Sathy do.

Share to TwitterShare to MoreThen the unintended confession. When Jack and Sathy say that only a “privileged” portion of college students possess basic study skills (“academic literacy,” “the hidden curriculum”), they reveal the presence of vast numbers of unqualified students in America’s colleges. No ‘academically illiterate’ student should be admitted to college. Jack and Sathy’s polemic reveals that our K-12 schools fail to teach and that college admission offices fail to screen.