Grading on a Curve Editorial
Statistics is a tough college course.
I hardly ever run into anyone who actually enjoyed taking Statistics. It is even rarer that I run across many people who actually excelled in the coursework. I remember the very first exam I took for a particularly tough Statistics instructor, who was insistent that we
develop a solid understanding of what he was trying to teach us.
Everyone failed the exam. Not a single person came close to passing it.
Rather than risk everyone running to his or her student advisor, and dropping the course as soon as the ink dried on the drop slip, he made the decision that – that for the next exam – he would grade it on a curve.
For anyone who has ever had the opportunity to deal with an instructor who employs this type of grading strategy, you understand how important it is that no one suddenly realizes their latent potential and decide to get that perfect score the old fashioned way – by
actually acing every question on the exam. What happens is that in order to raise the class average score as a whole, everyone has to silently agree to aim for mediocrity.
As long as no one tries and be a hero and push the curve higher, everyone can share in the riches of stable GPAs. Occasionally, a maverick will actually study hard and destabilize
the middling efforts of everyone else, disrupting the curve and bringing a bit of sweat to the brow of the lowest achiever. However, the class is usually successful in talking the professor into going with the demands of the many and basing the curve off of what the
majority has been able to achieve.
Everyone is happy shooting for the middle, even the lowest guy finds himself elevated because the bar has been lowered.
The people who suffer the most in this is the potential high achiever who has to make their mind up to either use their potential or just do enough to fall in with the crowd. The other individual who suffers is the person who is in charge of evaluation. They have to make an internal decision to accept lower standards because no one is interested in seeing how high they could fly with a bit more effort.
Sometimes, I wonder if I am beginning to grade on a curve when it comes to hip-hop. I find myself applauding music that, a few years ago, I would have dismissed as garbage. I have given music a second, and even a third, listen that would never have found its' way
into my car stereo to begin with.
I have begun to allow sloppy lyricism passing grades, I have accepted dumbed down lyrics with the excuse that "this is the way hip-hop is now". For a moment, I even embraced the concessionistic argument that many have made that the music has changed with the times, and you cannot stay in the past.
If hip-hop was food, I have done the equivalent of accepting that honey bun as sustenance when my mind knows that it contains no nutritional value and worthless calories. I gave up on the fruit and vegetable stand because everyone else began walking past it as well.
I am not the only one. I cannot help but notice the transformation of David Banner and see that – in many ways – he has decided to make a meal off the Little Debbie cakes too.
I grew weary listening to "so-called" hip-hop fans describe acts that dare flesh out their material with intelligent vocabulary and beats that take more than five minutes to make as "lame". At first, I revolted. I lamented the loss of real writers and production values. I swore that I would always strive to keep my material a bit above what the commercial sectors was saying was relevant.
I was not getting any calls for beats, but I was watching guys who fell to the game make a little change.
Over time, I began to modify my beats a little here, and a little there, in hopes that this same pseudo-fan would hear my tracks and approve.
Meanwhile, I was slowly lowering my standards as to what I believed made a classic record, a classic track, and a classic emcee.
Today, I am asking myself a question that many should be asking who love this music – should we continue to grade as according to the abilities we feel this student body possesses or should we remain vigilant and help the one student who dares to shine to
somehow shine brighter?
I think about this because when I listen to the new David Banner, I cringe. When I realize that just a while ago, Gnarls Barkley actually made me believe that the unique can still demand a place at the table, I cringe. When I listen to Lil Wayne and realize that he is
being heralded as the best rapper the game has to offer, I cringe. When I turn on the radio (a rare occurrence) and realize that almost every rhyme sounds like it came out of the same notebook, I cringe.
I do not mean to sound elitist, but it is a concern of mine these days. I hope that I can appreciate the good in what many people consider to be great, but still have the ability to notice greatness where others only register confusion.
No more grading on the curve.
Originally posted: July 29, 2008