Red ink banned for being traumatic

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Some schools in the United States insist that teachers do corrections in lavender ink because red marks are too traumatising for children.

Games of tag in some American schools are banned in favour of a non-aggressive playground pastime called "circle of friends", while children's books are vetted by "sensitivity committees" to ensure they contain no mention of scary animals such as snakes, rats or mice or even of peanuts in case the word upsets allergy sufferers.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a leading writer and philosopher based at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, addressing a child safety conference in Glasgow this week, warned of creeping "therapism" in the United States, where "students and teachers are sedated by textbook happy talk".

The head of an elementary school in Santa Monica, California, has decreed that children will no longer play tag at lunchtime because "there was a victim and an 'it' which create self-esteem issues". In the school's anxiety-reducing version of tag, no one was ever out and pupils were encouraged instead to play a game called "circle of friends".

In the mid-1990s, an article in an influential journal for PE teachers and academics had effectively consigned dodge-ball to the "hall of shame".

Juggling was recommended as a more appropriate game but, as juggling a number of tennis balls could become threatening, PE teachers were told to tell children to juggle with scarves.

Referring to moves not to use red ink, she said: "If we protect children from criticism written in bright colours, it may be that we are short-changing them. In the global economy, they will be competing with children whose teachers have not protected them."

Conscientious school educators should be wary of the advocates of "therapism", such as Daniel Goleman, founder of the American emotional intelligence movement; Mary Pipher, whose book Reviving Ophelia paints "an apocalyptic vision of the lives of teenage girls"; and William Pollack who sees adolescent boys as "tragically anguished young Hamlets".

She said: "I question their common sense. With few exceptions, our children are mentally and emotionally sound. They can cope with red pens, dodge-ball, tag and they can even handle being 'it'."

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