Barrels of Ink

By Catherine Gewertz — April 19, 2005 1 min read

A story by the Associated Press this month about schools discouraging the use of red pens to mark student papers has generated a wave of scolding newspaper editorials.

Gail Karwoski, the principal at Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Conn., told the wire service she was surprised when parents pushed for a change, saying their children found it too “stressful” to see their papers marked up in red. She told her teachers not to use red ink anymore.

Principals and teachers at other schools told the AP for the April 3 story that they’ve also moved from red to more “soothing” colors—especially purple—to avoid upsetting their students.

Major pen manufacturers even confirmed that schools were indeed driving an upsurge in the sales of purple pens.

The story was picked up by newspapers across the country, and editorial response was swift. Within a few days, writers were weighing in with responses that weren’t exactly sympathetic.

“Seems that red is too shocking to little school-going darlings, whose self-esteem gets all squished when they see red marks coloring their papers,” said the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas.

In California, the Ventura CountyStar suggested that “perhaps the soaring federal deficit wouldn’t be so alarming if we referred to ‘drowning in a sea of purple ink.’ ”

The Chicago Tribune suggested that red be banned from life in general “until it can be rehabilitated to live peacefully.” It noted that the ban could cause problems, including what should be done about strawberries, and how to adjust the palette of the American flag.

The Washington Post ran a Sunday commentary by a New York writer suggesting that all teachers now use a “sensitivity pak” of eight “comfort tones” in grading papers. His large, color-coded chart defined the proper use for each shade, including pink for boosting self-esteem, magenta to show the teacher suspects plagiarism, and brown for suggesting that a student might want to consider work as a day laborer when he or she reaches dropout age.

Ms. Karwoski, for her part, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the national reaction to the color ban at her school.