Are you in the red team or the green team? I refer, of course, to the colour of your marking pens. All right, this may seem small potatoes in the face of poverty, disease and Big Brother house evictions, but this really matters apparently.
Long ago, I was taught that red was a no-no. It was too negative, too much like school and serving only to remind vulnerable students of previous failures. Innumerable studies had shown that green, blue, pencil anything was better than red.
Well, I tried. But somehow red seems to have set itself as a sort of default position in my brain. So that whenever I reach into the depths of my workbag, nine times out of 10 it's a red pen that surfaces.
Most of the time it excites little comment from students. A year or two back, though, one took me to task for it. His name was Faizal. Brought up in North Africa, he still had that rhetorical flourish to his language that makes those of us from the Anglo Saxon world seem mean-spirited and parsimonious by comparison in our use of language.
"It's like you have opened your arm and poured your lifeblood all over the page," was how he put it. I take it that's a vote for green then, is it, Faizal?
And voting, in the end, is what it has come down to. In the spirit of everything being negotiable, I decided to ask this year's students which they would prefer. Whatever they decided, I would abide by their wishes.
Get a life! was their first reaction. But then they gradually warmed towards the topic. And pretty soon what had previously been a harmonious whole was divided into two implacably opposed camps: the reddists and the greenists.
Before blows were exchanged, I asked them to raise their hands for the pen of their choice. They split two-thirds to one third. in favour of red!
So now there was nothing else for it but to take out the blade, open the vein, and let the lifeblood of correction pour!