Monday, August 19, 2013
The Ballad of the Red Pen
Wise and worldly readers, have you found ways of making things work when people are using different approaches to their red pens?
One thing I've done with colleagues who experience two different types of red pens is to point out what's happening. Often those correcting every single mistake are jealous or threatened. And I've tried to ease the ones with the red pen's fear of being threatened. Even when teaching writing, I always felt that those who spilled red ink all over a paper were doing so not to help the student but to demonstrate their authority. The same is true of the metaphoric red pen. If you can recognize that then you can figure out how to manage it. Or, if it's too stifling, you can move on.
But this really wasn't a post about teaching writing - I think attribution of motive is the area where we err the most in interpreting other people's actions and mistakes. Good administrators learn quickly never to attribute to malice that which might have been done based on ignorance or different (sometimes irrational but honestly held) points of view. Even if someone was acting out of anger or frustration, choosing to ignore that give them the space to see and correct their own error. Reasonable people will be grateful you gave them a pass and will be more inclined to be charitable when you appear to have made a mistake. But that takes a kind of zen like patience and genuine curiosity that can be crushed out of the average person by the recriminations and general bureaucratic wrestling that are part and parcel of administration. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and not for the faint of heart.
But seriously, thanks a lot for this post, the other comments, and particularly for Ivory's thoughts about writing avoidance. We know from friends and colleagues out in the real world that writing is highly valued in technical fields, just as we know that students don't believe us when we pass on that info!
I generally focus on the physics content and logical argument in things like a lab report, ignoring the "errors of growth". However, I cannot avoid noting things that start to send a message of borderline illiteracy, since that can cost you a job even if it doesn't cost any points when I am grading.
I've learned from a few bloggers and colleagues who teach composition how to highlight a too-common error (the 3 page paragraph, for example) just once or twice without going crazy with red ink, but I should probably use a different color pen for grammar.