A good rule:

Don’t be too thin-skinned. Some forum members can be quite forthright in their criticisms (although personal abuse should not be expected or tolerated). Remember that, while praise is always nice, it is only through criticism of our work that we learn to improve. (highlight mine)

This is one of the rules Nick Daws, owner of MWC – the writing forum I belong to – put in a blog post. He was posting about reasons for authors to belong to a writing forum and the best way to benefit from belonging to one.

I read an article lately where an entire school district banned the use of red pens when marking papers because it was an angry color and gave the kids a sad.

We are trying to teach in schools and as far as we know, unless one finds out one was wrong in held assumptions or beliefs, there is no reason to change. Learning only happens when errors are pointed out.

Case in point: my niece used to call the vehicle used to transport critically ill people from out in the field to the hospital for treatment an AMB-lee-ance. She started that when she was just small and we all thought it was cute. She corrected a classmate in fifth or sixth grade and was mortified to learn the error of her ways. She also helpfully corrected her much junior cousin (five months younger) with this, “No, Craig. It is a CHEE chopper.” Her silly cousin had called it a tree chopper, which probably isn’t it’s official name either, but you get the idea. They were about three years old at the time.

Both of the cousins have grown up to be quite conversant in the English language with one actually teaching English to high schoolers and the other being a published writer. They learned. They corrected.

Without the red marks on the page, you don’t know that your word is misspelled or your math is a little off. The idea of learning without knowing the errors seems askew. The stuff that is correct can be ignored. You already know that. The red marks (or green or purple or whatever color is used) tell you where you need to study some more.

The “anger” of the red will become angry other colors. No one really likes being wrong. But we don’t (usually) let our children call bread a cookie or the floor the ceiling. As we teach our children to speak, we teach them (unless it is too stinking cute) the correct word for nouns and the correct grammar for English. Parents spend time with the irregular verbs and have to teach that we didn’t goed, but we went. We do this instinctively and the kids are eventually convinced to speak the language they hear around them so they can effectively communicate.

And then they get to school where the entire goal is to teach and somehow it is supposed to help if no one tells them where they are in error. This astounds and confounds me. If you don’t know how to add and subtract, life is going to be much harder than it really needs to be. If you cannot speak effectively, again it is tougher. Writing is an essential skill and spelling and grammar do matter – even in email and online. Teachers need to communicate, both for the student and themselves, where the errors are.

If two out of 25 kids get an answer wrong, those two kids need to learn the material. If twenty out of 25 kids get an answer wrong, the teacher needs to reteach it in a way that works because it obviously didn’t take the first time.

Trying to hide the mistakes by a different color ink or being soft spoken helps no one.

I have spent the last year and a half failing. You might think that I would know to not let my right knee fall inward when I’m squatting. And in fact, I do. But it is always helpful (although not always appreciated) when a coach says, “Knees out” and reminds me to watch my form. I’m not stupid. I’m not lazy. I’m not right – my right knee falls in when I’m not looking. I need to be reminded to look. It is a big, loud (has to be shouted over the music) red X. It helps.

The only way to learn something is find out that what you thought you already knew is not the standard way the world functions. It might be nice if 2 + 3 = 6 if you were being paid that way, but what if you were purchasing some stuff for two and three dollars and someone said they wanted six dollars from you and you were dumb enough to give it to them? That would be bad.

Spelling and grammar matter because when you do it wrong, you look like a dolt. History is unchangeable and yet new stuff comes to light and changes our perception, but there is a fairly standard agreement on what happened in the past. Science is growing by leaps and bounds, but the basic underpinnings remain the same. Geography borders change, but geographic features don’t.

There are no children who go out to play a sport and think that it is perfectly okay for that kid over there to not follow the rules because that kid doesn’t want to or doesn’t know them. Any time a kid is playing a game – sport, board game, card game, whatever – THE RULES WILL BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Why should school and learning be any different?

The only way to learn is to find out that what you already know is in error.

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