Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Red ink, not the kind you're thinking of.

One of the mantras of an online group I frequent is "don't poke the crazy." (In other words: don't say things likely to get highly opinionated and prone-to-frothing people on their high horse).

It is a good mantra. It is something I try to live by.

The problem is, you don't always know what's going to poke the crazy.

Who knew that using red ink to grade college students' papers was such a controversial topic? Apparently in some circles, red ink is bad because red causes an emotional reaction, raised blood pressure, tears, etc., etc.

(A confession: I had heard of this before. In fact, for the first few years of my teaching career, I used green pens. Until the main Purveyor Of Stuff in my town stopped carrying green ballpoints and I decided I was NOT mail-ordering pens just to protect a few fragile egos, and went back to red. I noticed no change in my evaluations, how students responded to me, etc. So I decided that a lot of that touchy-feely-teachy stuff was probably bunk.)

But now some people are telling me I am a Bad Person who is damaging the psyches of my students. Um, these are 20 year olds, many of them? A few are even older than me? If red ink is going to mess them up, they've lived far too sheltered a life, I've concluded. And what about the workforce? Trust me, their bosses-to-be are not going to coddle them - not in this economy.

Anyone who gets their panties in a wad over red ink being used to grade needs to change brands of panties.

But still, crikey. This is one of those examples of people insisting that the personal is ALWAYS political, and it bugs me. I don't use red ink because I'm an evil harridan. I use it because it shows up well on word-processed papers, because the pens are readily available (my department supplies them - I don't have to pay for them as I did for the green pens), and because it's traditional.

And I don't write mean stuff on their papers. Most commonly, I'll write "good" next to a well-done part. Or I'll write AWK next to awkward wording, or VA if the verb is out of agreement with the noun, or SP. if something is spelled wrong (and I tell them what those terms mean). Or I'll put suggestions that are, I think, fairly neutral (Like: "You might want to consider displaying the data in your final report in bar-graph form"). I'm not going all Severus Snape on their backsides. But apparently red has become associated with failure, and we must protect people from that.

Gah. I will observe that being "protected" from some failures in my earlier years was probably a contributing factor to the perfectionism and avoidance-of-certain-things (I have a couple manuscripts I COULD submit, but I drag my feet: fear of rejection).

I think rather than being protected from failure, it might be salutary to teach schoolkids that failing to do something perfectly, either because of lack of practice, or lack of experience, or because there's something that needs to be remedied in the basic knowledge set, is not such a bad thing.

It's kind of like pain, in a way: pain is unpleasant. Pain is bad. But - people who can't feel pain (there is a very small subset of the population that can't) is in far worse straits than the rest of us, because they can't always tell when they're injured, and it makes diagnosing problems a whole lot tougher.

But no, it's better to let old wounds fester than to allow for the brief but intense healing pain of debridement. Because we don't want to look MEAN.


1 comment:

Maggie May said...

When I taught, I always used a red pen because of the visibility factor. I didn't realize I was destroying egos.

You know, we get so many kids, fresh out of college, who are completely unprepared for the world. In real life, you are expected to be accountable for your errors, to learn from them and to grow. So many people don't, because they have had so little practice doing it in the past.

I simply do not understand this mentality. I think by catering to this stuff we are creating far more problems than we are solving. We are certainly not doing these kids favors by sugar-coating everything for them, and packing their fragile little psyches in cotton.

When I first started working, I had a partner throw a file at me. I secretly cried in my car afterward. I was horrified. I hated him. But you know what...I never made that particular mistake again.

I am not suggesting that we start throwing things at these kids. But a red pen seems pretty tame in comparison.