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The Myth of the Normal Curve


Edited By Curt Dudley-Marling and Alex Gurn

It is generally taken for granted that human behavior distributes along the lines of a bell-shaped, normal curve. This idea underpins much educational theory, research, and practice. There is, however, a considerable body of research demonstrating that the normal curve grossly misrepresents the human experience. Yet the acceptance of the normal curve continues to be used to pathologize children and adults with disabilities by positioning them as abnormal. Collectively, the contributors to this volume critique the ideology of the normal curve. Some explicitly challenge the assumptions that underpin the normal curve. Others indirectly critique notions of normality by examining the impact of normal curve thinking on educational policies and practices. Many contributors go beyond critiquing the normal curve to propose alternative ways to imagine human differences. All contributors agree that the hegemony of the normal curve has had a devastating effect on those presumed to live on the boundaries of normal.


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1 Introduction: Living on the Boundaries of Normal - Curt Dudley-Marling & Alex Gurn 1


ONE Introduction: Living on the Boundaries of Normal Curt Dudley-Marling & Alex Gurn Charles Murray, co-author of the infamous book, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994) has written a new book called Real Education (Murray, 2009). Real Education builds on the as- sumption that human behavior—including IQ—distributes along the lines of a bell-shaped, normal curve to make strong claims about the relationship between IQ and the social stratification of American society. In his latest book, Charles Murray argues that, because intelligence is fixed, schools will likely have little im- pact on the educational achievement of students on the low end of the normal curve, a distribution which Murray presents as an established fact. If, as Murray argues, children at the lower reaches of the normal curve cannot be moved by even the most effective teaching, then there is little reason for states and school districts to invest large sums of money in children “left behind,” many of whom are poor children and children of color. Nor is there reason to support policies aimed at expanding college attendance if so many students—and by implication their parents—lack the innate ability to do college work. Indeed, Murray claims that perhaps as few as 10% of the population actually have the innate ability to succeed in college, and it is these academically talented students at the upper end of the normal curve that Murray believes are worth the investment since they will make...

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