The banning of red ink for marking schoolwork – just one small part of our Prizes for Everyone educational culture – directly feeds the student authoritarianism on our university campuses
Over the course of this “Tales from the Safe Space” series we have seen glimpses of a coddled, fragile yet snarlingly authoritarian generation of young activists who perceive any disagreement with their ideology as tantamount to a physical and mental “assault” on their person.
These students demand not only complete submission from fellow students and university administrators to the arbitrary laws of Identity Politics, they also have the audacity to portray themselves as being so uniquely victimised and oppressed that unlike the generations which came before them, they alone need special protection and validation from an external authority. This, of course, is achieved through the establishment of safe spaces and draconian restrictions on freedom of thought and speech for everyone else on campus.
But students do not suddenly become baby-faced tyrants the moment they cross the threshold of college or university at the age of eighteen. Young people today are acted upon by three key environmental factors: the rise of Identity Politics as a movement, the West’s growing disregard for freedom of speech and the therapeutic culture in which we now live.
Every day brings new examples of each of these areas of civilisational decay. And one key factor in our modern day therapeutic culture is the way in which state schools increasingly pander to the feelings of their pupils rather than seeking first and foremost to impart a rigorous education and a strong character. Of course there are many noble exceptions. But if we ever believed that there would be no negative consequences to our present Everyone Wins A Prize culture, then we were sorely mistaken.
The Daily Mail reports on the latest depressing example:
Teachers have complained about a ‘ridiculous’ marking system which forces them to use pink ink for negative comments because it is ‘less aggressive’ than red.
The bizarre system is being implemented by some headteachers who believe pink is a softer colour which will make children feel less like failures.
Many are also making staff use up to six different coloured pens to give different types of feedback to pupils as part of a ‘triple’ or ‘deep’ marking strategy.
In one example, a school has asked pupils to respond to teachers’ comments in purple or blue, and if teachers want to give encouragement they have been told to use a ‘positive’ green pen.
[..] Lee Williscroft-Ferris, a modern languages teacher from Durham, said that in one school he worked at he had to draw a pink box at the end of each piece and insert positive comments in green ink and suggestions for improvement in pink.
This is not a new phenomenon. The Mail reported a similar story back in 2013:
Tory MP Bob Blackman revealed his anger after being told a secondary school in his Harrow East constituency had banned teachers from using red ink.
He told MailOnline: ‘A teacher contacted me and said I cannot believe I have been instructed by my head to mark children’s homework in particular colours and not to use certain colours.
‘It is all about not wanting to discourage youngsters if their work is marked wrong.
‘It sounds to me like some petty edict which is nonsense. It is absolutely political correctness gone wild.
The University of Colorado study often cited as being behind these ridiculous changes to school grading procedures warns that the colour red evokes “warning, prohibition, caution, anger, embarrassment and being wrong”. But surely that’s the whole point? Where there is error, the teacher’s red pen should be there to bring truth, and do so in an unambiguously clear way.
According to the same researchers, “in the context of communication, writing in red seems to shout in the same way as writing in all caps or writing which is underscored”. In other words, the current drive to eliminate red ink from schools stems from the same self-absorbed social media culture which frets that someone doesn’t like us because they failed to put a smiley face or a kiss at the end of their text message. But do we really want to be applying the neuroses experienced by the first generation to grow up with the internet to the current crop of students going through school?
While some of us might like friends, colleagues and bosses to validate us at every turn and sugar coat their feedback to us in warm and constructive ways, real life will not always be so kind. And children should be made ready for the world as it is, not as some naive idealists wish it should be.
School is the place where it is possible to fail in a safe and relatively consequence-free environment. Many people that students meet and collaborate with in the real world will not take the time to encouragingly point out the good parts of a report, presentation, product or other piece of work that generally failed to meet expectations. In some cases, the feedback may be quite harsh, often deservedly so.
This criticism is not usually an attack on the person, or an attempt to “invalidate their experience” or whatever other therapeutic phrase du jour is being used to pathologise everyday life. It is simply a statement that the work produced is incorrect, or in some way not up to specification. And children need to learn how to handle such feedback at a relatively early age. Young minds must be prepared for the challenges of life, not coddled and protected before being released unprepared into the wild.
We in the West increasingly live in an environment described by Rod Dreher as “a culture of autonomous individualists who don’t order their lives toward a common religion, or anything higher than what they desire”. And to that I would add that there is also an ascendant culture in which no longer values truth, where changes in how a person chooses to “identify” are taken to instantly overwrite reality.
In this brave new world, where even deluding oneself into thinking that one is an animal trapped in a human body is increasingly common among certain people, the awkward fact of a human birth certificate is just an inconvenient bureaucratic error to be erased as a new identity is created.
No wonder then that the teacher’s red pen is so hated – it stands as testimony to the despised idea that there is an objective reality, and often a right and wrong answer. For children who are raised to believe that everything they do is special and praiseworthy, and that their feelings are somehow sacrosanct and never to be trodden upon.
As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Sara Scarlett puts it:
For years, children have been artificially insulated from any form of loss or emotional upset. The common practice of everyone getting a prize for taking part in sports regardless of how good they are, or how much effort they have put in. The reasoning being that no one’s feelings should get hurt. Whilst I appreciate that adults want their children to have happy childhoods, this has been taken way too far. It is not just the job of parents and educators to make children’s lives as happy as possible. It is the job of parents and educators to make their children into adults who can thrive in the adult world.
The rise of students who cannot exist outside of a ‘safe space’ shows that parents and educators have failed in many respects. Children should be exposed to competition and tests, offered incentives for doing well in them and working hard because that builds resilient adults who are ready for a world where not everyone gets a part in a blockbuster movie or a book deal. In trying to create a world where children are never subjected to rejection or losing, they are unprepared for an adult world where so much of life is about how you deal with rejection, loss, grief and disappointment and avoiding it is impossible. This is, after all, precisely what school is for; a place to fail when the stakes are low.
So as we can see, today’s young adults are uniquely susceptible to the toxic brand of Identity Politics coursing through universities, starting from the moment that they arrive on campus.
From birth, parents and teachers have instilled in these young adults the belief that they are special, unique and beyond reproach. And from there, it is only a small step toward internalising the language of Identity Politics to paint oneself as an oppressed or privileged individual who must be constantly mindful of – and responsible for – the slightest impact that their words or actions have on others.
That’s how you go from grading essays using friendly purple ink to a coddled, incredibly privileged black Yale student aggressively screaming at her college master because he refused to establish dictatorial, school-like rules governing what other adult students were allowed to wear at Halloween.
And that’s how abandoning red ink in schools today helps to create the baby-faced student tyrants of tomorrow.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.