Recent psychological studies have suggested red ink is a contributing factor in the rising violent tendencies of children.
Kenosha, Wisconsin – Teachers at William J. Clinton Middle School have long used red pens to mark corrections on their students’ papers, but a recent memo from the vice president of the Board of Education threatens to change the long-standing tradition.
“It is our belief that red ink should no longer be used to mark errors,” Board Vice President Teresa Hoffman said in the message sent out to all Kenosha Unified School District faculty and staff. “We are putting our students at greater risk with each crimson jot and tittle.”
The KUSD is not the first school system to consider a ban on the brightly-colored pens. In 2013 teachers at a secondary academy in Cornwall, England were told to no longer use red pens as red is “a very negative color”.
A report noted in a European social psychology periodical spells it out: wielding a red pen may make a teacher more likely to spot errors on tests and to be more aggressive when grading essays. “The very act of picking up a red pen can bias their evaluations,” claims the study.
On this side of the pond, however, the reasoning has become even more extreme.
“Red is the color of blood,” said psychologist Bertram Goren, who specializes in color therapy. “Every time a teacher marks a word in red, it’s like she’s attacking the student’s work. That hurts.” A test or homework assignment, he believes, is very much a part of the child’s psyche, and by using red ink pens, teachers are “essentially eviscerating a portion of the child’s persona.”
Worse still, all those little sanguine marks could induce a certain level of violence in a child. Dr. Goren claims that if taking up a red pen can cause a teacher to become more aggressive, seeing red ink marring their homework sends a subconscious message which can make children more violent. “Much like a bull staring down a matador, red can raise the ire of a child,” he said. “Red ink pens, being subliminal in nature, are therefore more dangerous than the proliferation of violent video games among adolescents.”
Board VP Hoffman agrees, saying as much in her memo. “In this case, the pen may truly be mightier than the sword.”
While there have been no examples of violence being directly linked with the use of red ink to correct homework and tests, at least one student in the Kenosha district gained possession of his teacher’s red pen and proceeded to mark another student with it. The boy, whose parents asked remain anonymous, circled a girl’s belly and put check marks at places along the other student’s thighs he thought unattractive.
“He was marking my baby ‘incorrect’,” said the mother of the victim. “Sure, it was just a pen, but imagine if it had been a Sharpie!”
Fortunately that’s one battle our teachers do not have to fight. Sharpie has put a moratorium on selling their red permanent markers – in all sizes – to educational institutions nationwide. In a recent press release, Sharpie’s public relations representative stated, “We recognize the power and danger inherent in the color red and have opted out of providing these dangerous tools to those who may not understand the jeopardy they represent for our young.”
The KUSD Board of Education has suggested local instructors add positive comments to all papers, even those lacking any merit, and to replace red ink pens with kinder colors. Up for discussion at a recent Board meeting were black, blue, and green. After nearly four hours of debate, the council managed to come to a conclusion: All teachers should swap from red to green.
“Not black or blue, which are the colors of a bruise,” the memo read. “We recommend green, as it represents life and growth and – because of its connection with money – prosperity.”
And aliens, Ms. Hoffman. We must not forget the aliens.