Back in the 1960s I worked for an English headmistress who marked papers with green ink. She did it to distinguish her marks from those of the teachers, who made their corrections in red.
Many years later, I had an American college professor who marked his students’ papers in green ink. He was into mythology and Jung and understood the symbolic properties of the color red.
Red is the favorite color of a lot of people. In many contexts it symbolizes positive things: success, happiness. However, red also represents danger, anger, and dominance. In the Bible, sin is “scarlet,” like the letter worn by Hester Prynne.
In some quarters, teachers are being urged to retire red ink for marking school assignments. Some school administrators are merely suggesting that teachers use a different color; some schools in England have actually laid down regulations banning the use of red ink by teachers.
According to Snopes, the widespread belief that drivers of red cars, stimulated by the color, get more speeding tickets and have more accidents is a myth, but according to studies and opinion in Europe, the United States, and Australia, wielding a red pen awakes feelings of aggression in teachers and feelings of insecurity in children. Marking in red is even thought to cause teachers to grade more harshly than they would if they used a different color.
According to California State University Northridge psychologist Abraham Rutchick, Tufts University psychologist Michael Slepian and Bennett Ferris of Phillips Exeter Academy, “the very act of picking up a red pen can bias [teachers’] evaluations.”
Queensland teachers were given mental health kits which included the government suggestion
“don’t mark in red pen (which can be seen as aggressive) – use a different color.” –2008 Reuters story
A story in the Boston Globe discusses the growing popularity of purple ink in place of red:
“I do not use red,” said Robin Slipakoff, who teaches second and third grades at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Plantation, Fla. “Red has a negative connotation, and we want to promote self-confidence. I like purple. I use purple a lot.”
“The concept of purple as a replacement for red is a pretty good idea,” said Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Color Institute in Carlstadt, N.J., and author of five books on color. “You soften the blow of red. Red is a bit over-the-top in its aggression.”
I suspect that it’s the over-use of red on students’ papers that has created Rhodophobia in school children. If a teacher is going to mark every single error in a child’s early efforts at composition, it won’t be long before purple or green or any other replacement color will carry the same connotations of disapproval and failure to please.
Tests are one thing. Every incorrect answer must be marked on a test.
Daily assignments, however, and essays, do not require Search and Destroy tactics. If a student’s paper is riddled with errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, there’s no law says the teacher has to pounce on every single one.
A teacher can focus on on or two types of error per assignment. For example, all the pronoun errors and two or three misspelled words. Other errors can be noted the next time around.
By all means, use purple or green if you wish, but don’t imagine that it’s the color that discourages children in their efforts. It’s the failure of teachers to set realistic goals, focus on a few things at a time, and provide kindly, but unrelenting correction until the faults disappear.
MailOnline (ban on red ink in UK schools)