An intriguing new trend seems to be taking root in the world of education, at least in the United States. Just could be that the winds of change will turn out, after all, to be in the best interests of the constituency they are designed to benefit – the mass of students in the wider educational system today, who are our main hope for a better tomorrow.
The ink that American teachers are using has now become very problematic, apparently, or to be more specific, red ink. Red, of course, is the traditional color that teachers have long used to correct answers and offer suggestions. But now, according to reports, the color has become so symbolic of negativity that some educators will not touch it. And parents, too, feel that red writing is far too “stressful.”
One teacher explained that the disillusionment with red is part of a broader shift in grading. The emphasis is changing from “Here’s what you need to improve on” to “Here’s what you’ve done right.”
Placing the emphasis on what a child does right is certainly a worthy objective. The best educators, and parents, know that there’s nothing like well-directed praise to spur a children to greater achievement (although indiscriminate praise can sometimes do more harm than good.) But current politically correct thinking takes this one step further and dictates that helping people “feel good about themselves” is more important than helping them to achieve excellence.
The upshot of this is that many teachers apparently feel that the focus of their efforts should be towards ensuring that their pupils feel satisfied with their output, rather than prodding them to produce better work. And that’s where the problem lies.
The self-esteem movement has been gathering momentum in recent years. Few will deny that the cultivation of a healthy self-image is a crucial developmental goal. Success or failure in attaining it could have far-reaching implications both during a child’s school career and in later life. But in a recent book that must have certainly created big waves in many an educational circle, authors Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel propose that an overabundance of self-esteem can be more dangerous than helpful.
“Unmerited self-esteem is known to be associated with antisocial behavior – even criminality, Sommers and Satel wrote in One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance. In an interview to discuss their book, the authors opined that “the concept is too poorly understood to be an appropriate classroom objective. High-school dropouts, burglars, car thieves, shoplifters, even murderers, are just as likely to have high self-esteem as the winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor or Rhodes Scholars.” A strong statement indeed.
Coming back to the saga of the red ink, apparently pen manufacturers are confirming that purple is becoming the new color of choice for many teachers. On of them explained the reason: “My generation was brought up on right or wrong with no in between, and red was always in your face. It’s abrasive to me. Purple is just a little more gentle.”
“Right or wrong with no in between…..was that a bad thing? Personally, I hardly think so. Indeed that may be the crux of the whole matter.
You see, once you start chipping away at the concept of personal responsibility for your actions and for what you become in life, when “don’t worry, be happy!” is the call of the hour – then it’s only a matter of time before short-term self-gratification takes over from long-term striving to reach one’s full potential.
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.