Is the title of this post even possible? Most American parents, at first glance, might say yes. But after giving it some thought would disagree that it is possible for an education to both be rigorous and delightful. The very word rigor draws up images of a High Academic education where student’s evenings are spent doing homework, using flash cards, cramming data in their minds so that they can pass their test. Whereas the word delightful might draw up images of lovely music, sunny afternoons and other pleasant things without much academic substance.
Are they truly incompatible? Is our choice really between strict and painful or lovely and pleasant? As we consider this seeming paradox, we must get at our definitions of these terms. Rigor could be identified as steady, strenuous effort. In this way, it is an essential ingredient to an effective classroom as there can be no growth without struggle and effort. But, a rigorous classroom may or may not be delightful. This can be discerned by observing how the rigor makes the student feel. Is it a rigor that creates a sense of anxiety and pressure or is it a rigor that is challenging but inspiring, where the student is valued as a person. Is the student offered a chance to actively participate in the learning or is he passively receiving the information? Does the student feel that the work is meaningful and worthy? While hard work is necessary, mounds of worksheets and reports which create rigor for rigor’s sake are anything but delightful.
At Ambleside, we believe a classroom can and should display both rigor and delight. Whether it be a math concept, spelling rule, or a great history text, our classrooms are alive with attentive students eagerly getting at the challenging concepts and ideas with great delight. You see, rigor and delight meet when the mind of the student is actively doing the work of learning. This happens when a teacher does very little talking. Instead, he is the mediator between students and the text, requiring that they be attentive through narration and discussion. Once freed from the burden of bad habits such as inattention or laziness, students truly delight in the learning. They come to realize that they enjoy the natural acts of thinking and sharing their thoughts as well as hearing the insights of their classmates. This sort of eagerness is unleashed in an atmosphere that is free from judgment or competition. In this environment of strenuous effort, “labor is swallowed up in delight.” (Charlotte Mason, School Education)
In the end, a student who has received a rigorous education may be the academic equal of a student who has been given one with both rigor and delight. Both have been given a foundation upon which worldly success may be built. And, if worldly success is the end goal, then it matters little which route we choose. But if the end goal is something much more – if it includes the cultivation of a person who has many intimacies, who knows himself well and remains curious throughout his lifetime, then delight is an essential ingredient to a proper education.