Originally Posted by Yachtzee
As a former teacher and a student I've never been a fan of the curve myself, and I've often been on the "smilin' side" of the curve. I feel that grades should be an objective measurement of a student's performance that the student can use to measure his or her own progress rather basing the grade off of how one compares to other students. If everyone in the class works hard and does well, the grades should reflect that. Likewise if people blow off a class and have lower scores, the grades should reflect that as well.
I understand the point you are making, Yachtzee, but a "straight grade", as it were, can become problematic if the course is taught by a particularly poor instructor. I remember I had an advanced economics class "taught" by a Chinese professor who was, perhaps, the worst professor I've ever had. I wasn't an econ major, but I knew my way around basic micro and macro theory. And from day one the man might as well have been teaching Sanskrit while talking in Mandarin. Not only was he extremely difficult to understand, but his teaching style was not at all geared towards a classroom setting, particularly of students who were not econ majors. He consistently used theories that he expressly stated were beyond the scope of the class bu that we might find "helpful." This, in actuality, only served to confuse us.
The first few weeks, I made arrangements to meet directly with the TA--himself a foreign-born individual who had a less-than-wonderful grasp of the English language--to attempt to get caught up on the material I was missing. However, the TA proved unhelpful when even he admitted to being unable to adequately follow along with the professor's lectures. At this point, I filed a complaint with the necessary department, and copied the dean of the college. I received only a form response that my complaint had been received, and that the school would follow up if they felt it was warranted.
Ultimately, nothing became of the investigation. At the end of the term, the class average in the course was a 37%. Now, perhaps I could have pressed the issue further, or sought other avenues for tutoring in this class--but the fact of the matter is that my class schedule was already overburdened, and I simply didn't have the time to devote to re-learning the material from another source, particularly for a class that was not in my major and was only fulfilling a general ed requirement.
In cases like this, I think a curve has legitimate value, because it compensates for a sub-par teaching and learning experience provided by the University. Admittedly, there were times when I benefitted from a curve in a class where it likely wasn't necessary. So there are times when I would agree with you. But I also had experiences whereby grading on a curve was, in my opinion, a necessary adjustment. So I can see both sides.