• Thu, Mar 20 - 4:00 pm ET

School Bans Teachers From Using Red Ink Because Everyone Knows Red Ink Is Mean

shutterstock_16568218__1395344213_142.196.167.223An academy in the UK county of Cornwall has banned teachers from using red ink. From now on there will be a new grading system using green and purple pens. Why? Because everyone knows red is the color of rage, anger, punishment and periods. I embellished with that last part.

Vice principal Jennie Hick told The Cornishman:

Switching to the new marking system is certainly not about us going all soft and fuzzy. Students make more progress if it is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A teacher will make two or three positive comments about a student’s homework and point out perhaps one thing that will take them to the next stage.

Two or three positive comments and then one that “takes them to the next level?” What if the homework is totally wrong and terrible? Nice penmanship! You managed to do your homework without smearing pudding all over it – good job! Next time try doing it while you are awake.

I have no recollection of caring at all about the color of the pen my teacher graded my papers with. It was always red. The only thing I cared about was whether I was going to get one of those little happy faces some teachers make, where the top line of the face comes around and looks like a cute little cartoon comb-over. I don’t think I would have cared whether that was in green, purple or glitter glue. Scratch that. I would have much preferred glitter glue.

Hick goes on to say,  ”A lot of primary schools are already using a similar system amazingly well and I think it was felt that red ink was a very negative colour.” Meh. Red isn’t a negative color. An F is an F whether it’s written in pink or red. So is an A. Are we going to stop grading kids soon so they don’t feel stunted by judgment?

I do like the idea of more comments and engaging the children about their work rather than just giving them a straight grade. But I think that would be effective no matter what color they were in. It seems a little silly to make a change like this, but I guess you can never tell until you see how the children react to it.

(photo: Stephen Rees/ Shutterstock)

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  • CMJ
    • Robotic Socks

      you can’t upload a gif from your harddrive. You have to post the link like I just did.

    • CMJ

      Yeah. I’m on my phone. Fucked up. I can’t erase it yet.

      This just totally ruined my gif cred

    • Robotic Socks

      This is how I will swoop in and take Kay from you

      Muahahaha

    • daria maria

      this gif is beyond perfect.

  • Robotic Socks

    Nothing is meaner than orange!!!

  • momjones

    I had a colleague who used to grade her papers with her Montblanc pen. She would write detailed notes in the margins whether she needed to or not. Interestingly enough, I could grade the same paper using my red Bic, write NOOOO!!! if something was incorrect, or a YES! if it was good. The final grade was the same.

    • auntiea

      Had to google Montblanc pen. Holy geez, I love office supplies, but seriously!?!

  • pixie

    As much as it saddens me to say, this is nothing new. There were a few schools going towards that road when I was in grade 12 in 2007-08 (I was in a peer tutoring class so we often talked about things related to teaching and this was one of them) and even as a 17 year old I thought it was dumb. It goes along with it being harder to fail students. (Some students really should be given every possibility to pass, but others really shouldn’t be pushed forward just to save face). A good mark is a good mark and a bad mark is a bad mark, regardless of the colour of pen.

    When I TAed last semester probably one of the main reasons I didn’t mark in red pen was because I was having way too much fun with my gel pens and instead marked in pink, purple, green, and light blue.

  • Rachel Sea

    I tutor adults in literacy, and am not supposed to use red pen to make corrections because of the negative association people have to it – BUT it’s not the ink color that’s the problem, it’s that some teachers are dicks who traumatized their students early in their educations, giving them a complex when it comes to red markups.

    Giving both positive and negative feedback is important, but you have to be realistic about it. Saying nice things just for the sake of saying nice things will give kids an unrealistic view of their work, just like excessive use of the old red pen.

    • pixie

      I had a prof in my undergrad who would put in a TON of effort when marking papers (though I don’t think she ever used red) just to help us become better writers. Any of her negative comments were constructive and were all encouraging. She always warned us about her marking style before handing back the papers, though.
      Teacher’s who are dicks and scribble all over papers being negative and not very helpful on the other hand, yeah they’re just dicks.

  • Mystik Spiral
  • Jessie

    I grew up a bit before the world started on this “protect the precious minds of our fragile snowflakes” spree, but I had a teacher in my junior and senior years of high school that refused to use red pen, he would always use either a blue or dark purple one, and the reasoning behind it was similar: He told us he would always hate nothing more as a kid than when he would get a paper back that had all that red ink all over it, and so he refused to use it on his students. He also said that whether the remarks were positive or negative, red just has an aggravating effect on most people. It’s been proven to be an annoying and negativity-inducing color. Purple and blue, however, are calming colors, and he never wanted his students to feel stressed out or apprehensive upon seeing a paper with his marks written on it.

    To this day, he remains one of my favorite teachers simply for that fact. He did everything in his power to avoid having any of us feel like we should fear his commentary, simply by refusing to use the dreaded red pen.

    • Sara610

      See, I had a bit of the opposite experience. I took a class in college with a tough, old-school professor who used the red pen liberally. When I turned in a particularly half-assed paper, I got it back with a big fat D and, in red pen on the back page, a note about how this was not college-level work and I needed to put in the effort to do much better.

      That moment stands out so clearly in my mind. Yes, I hated reading that feedback. Yes, I was completely intimidated by this professor. But it was also the kick in the ass that I needed to finally start applying myself, and from that moment on I got straight A’s and started actually fulfilling my potential–not just in my academics, but in other areas of my life as well. And I trace that directly back to that professor, with her red pen and her willingness to tell students when their work was simply not good enough.

    • rrlo

      I do find that this type of behaviour can backfire.

      I had an English teacher in high school who I absolutely adored – because he was amazing and I was a big nerd that did her homework. But he used to humiliate the students who were less than stellar in class. At the time, it seemed fine but later I wondered how many of them lost complete interest in learning just because of the behaviour of this one man. It was probably worse because he wasn’t a crusty, awful person – because he was cool and well-respected.

      Some people ARE fragile. And I wonder those that do poorly in school in the first place are already insecure and vulnerable about their intelligence and ability to learn. And if something like not using a red pen or being more constructive with both positive and negative comments can help the ones struggling gain some momentum – what’s the harm?

      When it comes to education, I find that we can easily give in to nostalgia and fall victim to the “good old days syndrome”.

    • Sara610

      I think there’s a difference between being honest in telling a student when her work needs to be better, and humiliating that student. My professor, for example, didn’t write, “OMG, you’re the biggest moron ever. How did you even get INTO this school?!”
      She said something that was completely true–the work I had handed in was not college-level work, I wasn’t putting in an adequate effort, and I needed to do better. As an educator, it was her job to tell me where my work needed improvement and as a student, it was my job to listen and do better.

      Humiliating a student for the fun of it is not okay, but teachers do need to be able to give students honest, constructive criticism about their work. If a child’s self-esteem IS so fragile that honest feedback (again, honest and constructive–not humiliating and cruel) is going to cause them to completely lose interest in learning, I don’t think it’s the teacher’s job to fix that. It’s the parents’ job to address it so that the teacher can do his or her job, which is to teach and tell students where their work needs improvement and help them to get there.

      Again, I’m not excusing humiliation for the sake of humiliation. But there’s a middle ground between what this school district is doing and what you describe, and teachers need to be able to walk that middle ground because that’s their job.

    • rrlo

      Can’t disagree with that! You make a valid point.

    • Sara610

      God, I love Mommyish. :)

    • Kelly

      I had a dick teacher who used blue pen for the same reasons as your nice teacher.

      His comments were just as dickish and petty as they would have been in red ink. I dreaded that blue ink more than I ever dreaded any red ink in my life. The color doesn’t mean shit.

  • Lillybet

    I mark my papers in pencil mostly because if I change my mind half way through the comment I can rub it out (happens more than you think as some of my comments are fairly snarky and I have to modulate my tone frequently). The kids are used to it (both the snark and the pencil) and really don’t care. For the most part they are more interested in the grade than they are in the comments and that’s fine.

    They talked about making this a ‘thing’ in Australia and most teachers laughed at them. The High School Accounting teachers pointed out that green and purple pens mean other things and that they weren’t going to change and it was dropped.

  • Lee

    I thought teacher’s used red ink because it was noticeable and not because it expressed their rage at a wrong answer.

    • http://mother--bored.tumblr.com/ Aimee Ogden

      That’s how it should be, at least. When I was teaching I switched to blue/green ink for a while and students complained because it was harder to find the mark-ups on their papers!

    • JustaGuest

      That’s my reason – it’s about the only color I don’t have students use regularly.

  • Rowan

    This isn’t a new thing. Around 5 years ago, we were told that we couldn’t mark in red because it’s a ‘negative colour’ and it’ll upset the poor kiddies. Y’know, the demure little angels who yell “fuck” and throw chairs across the classroom for shits and giggles. Then the policy became green ink ONLY for marking. Seriously. I once marked in purple because I didn’t have a green pen around at home, and I got a verbal warning.

    Reasons I quit teaching, #347

  • lucie uk

    To my disgust, this has been common in UK for years. Teachers don’t correct spellings or grammar on any work done. For fear of upsetting pupils. I used to go through my Son’s exercise books and do it myself – in red ink! I got told off by school but I stuck to my guns. As a result my Son can spell, punctuate, and use correct grammar. I was pinned as an awkward parent :) they made it hard for him but parenting wins out over state education

    • koreander

      “As a result my Son can spell, punctuate, and use correct grammar. I was pinned as an awesome parent :)”
      Here, fixed it for you.

    • SarahJesness

      I didn’t think that would be a common thing in the UK. I thought it was just the US getting kind of stupid with education.

    • Amber Stacey Larsson

      Pretty sure there’s no capital S in “son’s”. I’m sure you’ll forgive me for pointing out your mistake though, because I didn’t do so in red.

    • rrlo

      A good friend of mine, who is a teacher, was talking about this. And what she said made sense to me. She said that teachers don’t penalize for spelling anymore because they want the kids to use proper words without the fear of mis-spelling them. I guess they found that if kids weren’t afraid to spell correctly, they start expanding there vocabulary more.

      I thought that was a valid reason and something to consider. We do have spell checks etc. now, so it isn’t as bad as before. Maybe it’s time to let go of some of the old – spelling counts for 20% of the mark model.

  • Paul White

    Holy shit.

    This is the same asinine thinking that leads to renaming “mentally disabled” every decade or two. The stigma/association follows the use of the term, or in this case, the ink.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    jesus are we raising a generation of pampered illiterate brats?
    No red ink cos it’s MEAN?!
    What’s next- NO CORRECTIONS?

    • JJ

      Scarily in the future we will probably just have text speak(shutters) at the rate we are going now. No one will even know hand writing anymore or how to do a well written essay. Any kind of english structure will just fly out the window so long as the message can be typed out in text style. They will just say sh** like, “George Washington did stuff and he made history. Don’t be a playa hater gainst George Washington cause he wuz a cool dude. da end” and teachers will put a thumbs up icon next to it because they are no longer allowed to use pen to correct errors or grade it because someone’s feelings could be hurt. I am scared of the future but also intrigued by it lol

    • rrlo

      You know every generation goes through this – where they fear for the demise of future generation. It rarely ever pans out – so don’t give up hope yet! Although I admit technological changes in the last 5-10 years have been incredible.

      I find that more so than the youngsters, the “grown ups” are far more guilty of bad behavior when it comes to technology. I get way more focused attention from the average 10 year old I speak to, than the average adult – who are either glued to their phone or taking shifting glances at their phone.

      I have never once had lunch with a good buddy of mine (who granted manages a big team at a financial institution) with him having multiple phones strewn across the table. I get that he has an important job but seriously?

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      We have the no phone rule.
      The only exception is if we know there is something going on (eg, when my friend was in labor or awaiting to hear about someone’s test result)

      If my partner forgets, I ignore him for as long as it takes for him to put the phone down, even if he’s talking to me.

      It may seem childish but it does work lol

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      I actually want to commission that paragraph into an actual book and see do kids notice the difference lol

  • daria maria

    If anything, as a student, I prefer the red pen.

  • Mikster

    Even more alarming is the 2-3 compliments requirement. It’s a constant struggle to get our youngest to invest any effort- tests high, performs low. Some of his extended responses could be a 3 word sentence. Now WHAT nice thing are you going to say about that?

    • AP

      It’s the Sandwich Method of criticism, that all negative comments need to be “sandwiched” between two compliments.

      I’m a HUGE proponent of tactful, caring, constructive criticism. Being insensitive and hurting people’s feelings with your criticism makes people less likely to take it and less likely to respect your opinion in the future. But I think the Sandwich Method is nonsense, because some people are doing more than 1/3 of their work wrong and are doing less than 2/3 of their work correctly- they need criticism that’s accurate and going to help them improve. Unless improvement is not really your goal, in which case it’s fine to say “You got all the answers on this math test wrong. But you printed your name very neatly and handed it in faster than anyone else!”

    • Sara610

      Not to mention–what’s going to happen when these kids get into the working world and realize that your boss probably doesn’t give a shit about whether his or her criticism hurts your feelings? If you’re coming in late every day and doing a half-assed job when you’re there, no one is going to worry about whether it hurts your self-esteem to tell you to shape up or you’re fired.

  • Trust me, I’m an engineer

    When I was TAing freshman math back in the day, my grading tools were a dip pen, a vial of dark red ink decorated with a skull-and-crossbones hazard symbol sticker and a little black notebook with names in it. Strangely enough, most of those kids actually did fairly well in that class and a handful even admitted they enjoyed it. Must’ve been Stockholm syndrome, poor things.

  • JJ

    Why don’t we just ditch the marks and pen all together and just put smiley face stickers that say “your a winner” on all students work up until college. Because god knows we wouldn’t want anyone to have any precious hurt feelings or learn from their homework mistakes. Hell while were not at it lets not even hand out graduation certificates any more because it might exclude kids who didn’t make the cut lets just give everyone including those who shouldn’t pass a special your a winner trophy for participation.

  • Sara610

    Thanks, Obamacare.

  • Williwaw

    When I TA’d in college, I came across several students who literally could barely read and write and could not do simple arithmetic. I am all in favour of helping kids learn and treating them with respect, but trying to save their feelings to the point where you cannot give constructive criticism is ridiculous.

    • rrlo

      I think what you’re saying is key. As long as helping kids and treating them with respect is the first and foremost guiding principle in every decision made in the school system – things will go right more often than not.

      This type of obsession with red ink/blue ink, pseudo-psychology is stupid and just end up confusing the situation and pissing good teachers off.