Thursday, May 21, 2015

Procrustes and the grading curve

Do you know the story of Procrustes? He's an ugly figure from Greek mythology, famous (or infamous) for "the bed of Procrustes," an iron bedframe on which victims were placed and "fitted." If the victims were too tall for the bed, their legs would be amputated to the proper length; if they were too short, they would be cruelly stretched to conformity.*

By now, you can see why the adjective "Procrustean" might come to mind whenever I think of our university's grading curve. Every class must conform to the curve: there can't be too many "A"s; there can't be too few "C"s, "D"s, and "F"s. That curve is the bed of Procrustes.

In the myth, it's the hero Theseus who comes along, outfights or outwits Procrustes, and fits the villain to his own bed, thereby killing him. Would that some real-life Theseus should come along and curve all these college administrators to death—peg their salaries to a bell-curve distribution of their performance ratings. You might be the president of the university, but if your ratings are low, you get peanuts. Oh, and let the students be the ones to rate the university staffers, just as they rate us faculty.

*Wikipedia notes that Procrustes secretly had two beds, just to make sure that no one was ever a perfect fit.


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