Running from Bears
The law school curve is a little bit like running from a bear. Your survival isn’t dependant so much on how well you perform, but on how terribly the person running behind you performs. In fact, your performance suddenly looks a lot better if you push over that kid over there, yeah, he looks pretty juicy and delicious. Er. Ahem.
Well, law students may or may not be juicy and delicious (we probably taste like Power Bars and stale coffee), but we have gotten our share of law-of-the-jungle education through the application of the grading curve. Our professors come into class and preach to us the virtues of cooperation, but then they turn around and grade based on a system that is inherently competitive.
Why should they be surprised when students refuse to share notes with one another, or steal or deface library books? Why should they be surprised when we are burnt out, because no matter how much we study, we might never get to the elusive top 10% and therefore will never get a job ever
WE ARE FAILURES WITH OUR 3.5 GPA, CRY, CRY.
The grading curve isn’t meritocratic. It’s not an accurate reflection of how well we understand the course material (which you think would be the point of grading in the first place). It’s an outdated system of measurement that discourages a healthy learning environment. It’s running from bears, when really we ought to be learning how to turn around and cook that bear for breakfast.
Getting a Haircut
The other day I was talking to my hair dresser about exams. She was shocked to find out that we only had one exam on which to base our entire grade in any given class, but even more surprised when I described the curve.
“Essentially, you are graded not on your complete comprehension of the material, but on your comprehension of the material as compared to your classmates, ” I explained.
“So wait…what if no one gets the material? What if everyone fails?” She asked.
“Then the person who got the highest “F” gets an “A” and whoever doesn’t understand it the LEAST, gets the lowest grade.” I replied
“Doesn’t that meant that you can get a really terrible teacher who doesn’t teach you anything at all, and everyone can fail, but still pass?” She asked.
“Yep.” I responded.
She paused a moment, digesting the information, the said “…. that’s F@cking stupid.”
My thoughts exactly.
Fair is Fair
Supposedly the curve creates fairness across our class. It prevents one professor from giving all A’s and another from giving all C’s, etc. However, consider this. You’re put into a section with a class (say 100 students) and in that group, 50 turn out to be “A” type students. You’re not one of them. You get a C. However, in an alternate universe, you’re put into a different class of students (say 100 students), and 10 are A students, so you get a B+. Fair is fair, right?
Also, as you get older and wiser, you start to get a sense of the system. You have been planning to take a course by a particular professor since first semester 1L year, and you get into the class. You see 30 students, 10 on law review known to be in the top 10% of the class and 5 are known to be gunners. Do you take this coveted course or do you make the strategic choice to drop it so that you can add a course where you actually have a chance in hell of getting an A or B?
WHY SHOULD WE EVEN HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS KIND OF THOUGHT PROCESS IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
And, let’s not forget curve paralysis. After 1L year, many students are given a sense of where they belong on the curve caste system. We start to think, what’s the point of trying to move from one caste category to another when really the results already have been written in the stars? Surely, this leads to a healthy learning environment with incentives for students to learn, despite the fact that for the most part, they know and are told that what they get that first and second semester of their first year pretty much determines where they’ll sit on the curve for the rest of their time at school.
Well, so what? So maybe some (maybe many) students stop trying as hard and maybe some (maybe many) professors start focusing on making sure the curve isn’t too flat instead of aiming to impart knowledge and information to their students. That’s cool, right?
Fair is fair after all…