April 3, 2005

Better red than dead

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 3, 2005 9:58 PM

I am shocked to discover (via Fark) that teachers are no longer using red ink when grading papers, because it's "symbolic of negativity":

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Of all the things that can make a person see red, school principal Gail Karwoski was not expecting parents to get huffy about, well, seeing red. At Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Conn., Karwoski's teachers grade papers by giving examples of better answers for those students who make mistakes. But that approach meant the kids often found their work covered in red, the color that teachers long have used to grade work.

Parents objected. Red writing, they said, was "stressful." The principal said teachers were just giving constructive advice and the color of ink used to convey that message should not matter. But some parents could not let it go.

So the school put red on the blacklist. Blue and other colors are in.


Three top pen and marker manufacturers _ Bic, Pilot Pen and Sanford, which produces Papermate and Sharpie _ are making more purple pens in response to rising sales. School leaders and teachers are largely driving that demand, company representatives say.

When I have graded papers, I've always used red ink, and I've never seen it as symbolic of negativity. It is obviously symbolic of blood, as the mighty grader wreaks his terrible justice upon the wrong answers! No mistake shall be spared his righteous anger!

Luckily for my students, I'm not grading any homework this semester. I do miss it a little; there was a sort of thrill in glorious destruction of a poorly-written assignment providing helpful and enlightening suggestions.


I agree. I also always use red ink when grading, and for almost exactly the same reasons you do, though perhaps i'd not express it the same way. It's a judge of how bad they did by how much i've written in red ink. When I write paragraphs longer than their entire answer to the question, just to explain where they went awry, it gives me satisfaction to look at the page later and see that the red ink has won. :)

Posted by: Zifnab | April 4, 2005 4:17 AM

When I TA'ed my first year, not wanting to spend my meager earnings on grading supplies, I went looking around my department for red pens. I was told that I shouldn't use red because it was too "punitive". I told her that red was the color of grading mostly because it is the most visible. Plus if the damn undergrads were too sensitive to see correct answers written in red, they should have stopped turning in crap.

Posted by: jenpehl | April 4, 2005 10:11 AM

I graded exams in crayon once. Mostly because all my red pens had disappeared.

Ah, those were the days. Now I'm reduced to writing acerbic comments in red bold on the 43th draft of this paper...

Posted by: Wren | April 4, 2005 12:18 PM

Stange post ahead. Read at own risk...

* * *

Ah yes, grading work in the color red. There's a long and rich history to that, mostly forgotten in our modern era.

The Gazebo is close, regarding the symbolism. The red does, quite naturally, represent blood, but more more precisely, it represents the blood of the editor.

This goes back to the original writing of the Necronomicon. It was absolutely vital that the text was perfect to the letter, and many lives (and un-lives) depended on it. As the text itself was written on the tanned skin of the dead using the blood of innocents as ink, correcting erroneous passages was quite tedious. To solve this problem, a new system was developed. First, the pages were treated with an anti-coagulant milked from the saliva of baby vampire bats. Then, the page would be written, and with the blood still wet, sent to the editorial chamber. It was there that dark acolytes would check and double check each page, and in the event of an error being found, would immediately stab out their own eyes with a quill, letting their fresh, warm blood wash the pages clean.

Due to the tedium of this process it took countless years (and acolytes) to finish the book. A quite logical progression over the years led to a more conservative use of editorial human resources, right up to today, when we still use red ink to pay tribute to the suffering of editors past.

Posted by: Lemming | April 4, 2005 5:14 PM

Shoot, there was one complication that I completely forgot to mention!

Due to the nature of the text itself, it was unfortunately rather common for an editor to stab their eyes out when the text was correct. Eventually, such passages were just accepted as-is, and as such, it is very possible that some mistakes did go unchecked in the darker portions of the book.

Posted by: Lemming | April 4, 2005 5:18 PM

Ha, this is a great thread. :)

Jenny: That's a good point about visibility. I always get annoyed at graders who use blue or black ink on my papers, because then I can't find the corrections. Conversely, students who write their homework in red ink are asking for trouble...

The physics department has never advised me on my choice of pen color... however, I notice that the grader for the course I'm TA'ing currently is using purple. (sigh)

Wren: Maybe red crayon is the best choice, as the friendliness of crayon cancels out the stressfulness of red...

Lemming: Gee, that was twisted.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | April 5, 2005 11:58 AM

This topic came up when I was being interviewed by the NSA. Both of us agreed this was crap.

Granted, I'll just use whatever color is available (I've given loads of marks in purple before, for example), but this is a load of hogwash. If students can't handle red marks, then I really should roll a d20 to determine what % they get right!

Travis, you actually miss grading? That is the _worst_ part of teaching a class. (By the way, you should see how much red I've put on assignments, papers, exams, etc!)

Tim, you should save that for that 'imponderables' game. :)

Posted by: Mason | April 5, 2005 6:47 PM
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