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The History of the Bell Curve: Sorting and the Idea of Normal
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The History of the Bell Curve: Sorting and the Idea of Normal

Author: Lynn Fendler; Irfan Muzaffar
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing. 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. Tel: 800-835-6770; Tel: 781-388-8599; Fax: 781-388-8232; e-mail: customerservices@blackwellpublishing.com; Web site: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/jnl_default.asp
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication:Educational Theory, v58 n1 p63-82 Feb 2008
  Peer-reviewed
Database: ERIC
Other Databases: WorldCatWorldCatWorldCatAcademic Search Complete
Summary:
Bell-curve thinking, as a model of distribution of success and failure in society, enjoys a perennial (ahistorical, objective, and law-like) status in education. As such it provides a rationale for sorting (tracking or streaming) practices in education, which has led many educators to criticize both bell-curve thinking and associated sorting practices. In this essay, Lynn Fendler and Irfan Muzaffar argue that the  Read more...
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Details

Title: The History of the Bell Curve: Sorting and the Idea of Normal
Database Name: ERIC
Document Type: Article (EJ)
All Authors / Contributors: Lynn Fendler; Irfan Muzaffar
ISSN: 0013-2004
Notes: Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Description: 20
Language Note: English
Year: 2008
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing. 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. Tel: 800-835-6770; Tel: 781-388-8599; Fax: 781-388-8232; e-mail: customerservices@blackwellpublishing.com; Web site: http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/jnl_default.asp
Unique Identifier: 424826492
Article Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Source: Educational Theory v58 n1 p63-82 Feb 2008
OCLC No.: 424826492

Abstract:

Bell-curve thinking, as a model of distribution of success and failure in society, enjoys a perennial (ahistorical, objective, and law-like) status in education. As such it provides a rationale for sorting (tracking or streaming) practices in education, which has led many educators to criticize both bell-curve thinking and associated sorting practices. In this essay, Lynn Fendler and Irfan Muzaffar argue that the existing critiques of bell-curve thinking ring true for people who believe that the purpose of schooling is to promote a more equitable redistribution of resources in society; however, these arguments do not criticize the law-like character assumed for a bell curve as a representation of social reality. To extend these critiques, Fendler and Muzaffar focus on the history of the bell curve, from a representation of binomial probability, to a bearer of real things in nature, and finally to a set of expectations about how people should behave. They ultimately argue that the acceptance of bell-curve thinking in education is part of a recursive project of governance and normalization.
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