Right now we are having a plague throughout the world and in the U.S. (and other places) we are told to help “flatten the curve,” meaning that we should spread the number of people with the sickness out, instead of having them lumped in one place—like in NYC.

I never imagined that anyone who had been to school and helped by the grading curve would want to flatten it. The curve helped me get through a couple of courses in college and I was very happy for it.

The curve that our teachers applied was related to the “bell curve,” a statistical measurement that shows what the expected variation is for any set of data. When the data is plotted on a graph, the line usually shows the shape of a bell or hill and the normal variation will be towards the middle of the hill.

Teachers use the curve in examining their tests by assuming that the scores of the class will form a bell curve, if the test is a good one. When the teacher plots the test scores and, if no one has a high mark, the assumption the teacher makes is that the test was too difficult, and a curve will be applied to adjust the scoring upwards. The teacher does this by adding points to the scores or bumping up one student’s score to 100%, then adding the same number of points to everyone else’s score. There are many ways that the teacher can adjust the curve, including taking the square root of the test percentage and making it a new grade, or standing on one’s head and writing backwards.

Test score curve procedures are said to apply to sick people because we are told that flattening the curve will push them out and make the sickness go away. I never wanted the curve to go away in college. The smart kids were not our friends if they didn’t help us get bumped up in the curve—we were like a flat tire and needed pumping up.

Similarly, we want to know how many people are actually sick, not the average number of people who are not sick but think they may be.

There are other kinds of curves. For example, there are some bad ones on the mountain roads of rural Pennsylvania where I grew up. The early road builders followed goat trails and goats don’t walk or climb in a straight line. Instead of flattening the curves in the road, the engineers tried to make the road straighter. They couldn’t always do this due to rivers, mountains and the determined farmer or hermit who would make the road builders go around them.

There was a very bad curve on a corner near the general store in our community. The natives knew about it but city travelers, out for a drive in the countryside, would not be aware of the curve until it was too late and they ended up in the yard of Clayt Williams, who lived south of the curve. Consequently, his lawn often looked like an off-road mud track. The city drivers would apologize and pay Clayt to have their car towed back to the “main” highway. There was no way to straighten the curve and flattening it would not have helped.

Sometimes mapmakers do flatten the curves and make Interstates and main roads look like they are in a straight line. Without flashing yellow lights, luminous signs and guard rails, the casual driver will believe what he sees on a map. The result is the same as driving into Clayt’s yard.

However, now with GPS and Sandra, the mythical navigator who gives us directions, it is difficult to go astray, although unfortunately Sandra does not warn drivers about curves. She will say, “Turn left on Edgemont Street in 300 yards,” but most drivers are anxious. They will see the street that has a left curve, but it is 100 yards too soon. The curve was flattened, but it was the wrong one.

John the Baptist, like Elijah before him, wanted the roads straight for the Lord to travel. Isaiah reported that they wanted the valleys and potholes filled in as well. They expected this to happen without a GPS or maps. Imagine if that would help by “flattening the curve” in our neighborhood.

Sheltering to help “Flatten the Curve,”
Day 21 and counting (slowly)
Karl and Joice Franklin