Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Seeing red

At elementary schools across the country, teachers are discontinuing the use of red pens for grading papers due to the "stressful" quality of their marks on student work. This is due to complaints, mostly from parents, that students may see the instructional messages written on their papers in red, as "derogatory and demeaning". Some teachers are using pens with more "pleasant feeling tones", such as purple or green.

This is just another step our schools are taking, not to educate kids, but to make them feel good about themselves. A school should be a place of learning, and learning implies that there is something unknown on the student's part. A new skill, an unfamiliar idea, fresh information for the student. A teacher who points out error or areas of ignorance to a student does the student a favor by filling in gaps in knowledge and by encouraging the furtherance of the student's skills and abilities.

There is a broad shift in our schools that has gone from "here's what you need to improve on" and it has become "here's what you've done right". Now, I am a proponent of encouraging students, I do it all the time with my own kids, but as their teacher, I also see the need to consistently point out errors and mistakes, teaching them to do better work.

With my oldest daughter, 6th and 7th grade math was a daily struggle. Tears from both of us were a regular occurrence. Did I feel bad? Yes! Did she feel bad? Yes! But her hard work paid off as she just completed a College Algebra class at age sixteen in which she earned an "A", and you can bet she feels good about herself because she worked hard!

As the teacher of my kids, I never want to fear pointing out their errors to them as if it might cause them to feel bad about themselves. Rather, I want my correction in their life to lead to greater knowledge and skill. The philosopher, Socrates, knew that his wisdom rested in his awareness that he had so much to learn. In his life, he would never reach the point where he knew it all and had no need for correction. So the fact that I use a red ink pen to mark my children's papers doesn't matter as much as whether or not I choose to correct my kids for their benefit, encouraging them towards a successful future as lifelong learners!