The Psychological Damage Of The Red Pen

This story came up on my radar a few months ago, and I’m only now getting to blogging about it. From the Telegraph:

Australian educators are being urged to correct homework in less aggressive colours like green and blue, in an attempt to improve mental health in the classroom.

The plans are part of a package of measures dismissed as “kooky, loony, loopy lefty” by opposition politicians.

Other tips in the Good Mental Health Rocks kit, which was distributed this month to about 30 schools in Queensland state, including apologising to students when necessary and asking pupils to conduct a “personal skills audit” where they focus on their individual strengths rather than their weaknesses.

On the issue of marking, it advises: “Don’t mark in red pen (which can be seen as aggressive) – use a different color.”

Stephen Robertson, the Queensland health minister, defended the guidelines which were devised by his department, saying that youth suicide was a serious issue.

“If mental health professionals determine that as one of a number of strategies teachers should consider, then I’ll support them every day of the week,” he said. “This is not a matter for ridicule, this is serious.”

Suicide? From too much red pen? I find that hard to swallow. Peer rejection, sure. Bad grades in general, OK. But actual psychological damage from the usage of red pen?

I had teachers who liked to grade with those thick two-toned pencils — orange on one side, green on the other, so it made neat swirly-colored marks on the page. The color didn’t change the fact that I missed an answer on my quiz, and only got a 93%. (Yes, I was one of those.)

Granted, I’m not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but this seems a little extreme.

Red marks excessively aggressive? To hell with the color of pen; just make sure you can give me a reasonable explanation as to why you marked my essay off by three points on page two, other than that vague damn question mark you put in the margin.

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