Paper Mate has boosted production for purple pens by ten percent for this fall. Staples and OfficeMax are adding purple pens to multicolor packs and selling all-purple packs as well. Want to guess the reason for it? Somebody somewhere has decided that red is a bad color for teachers to use in grading papers. Red ink damages student self-confidence. Red intimidates. Purple is kinder, friendlier.

When things such as this make the papers, I roll my eyes again and think that education is a sucker for the same phony fixes that business and government, church and family embrace to our ultimate embarrassment.

Coddling ourselves instead of challenging ourselves is a mistake. No, it is a really bad mistake with terrible consequences that play out all around us.

Ever listen to the graduate of a major university being interviewed after a football game? Somebody should have done him the favor of using red ink on his papers to call attention to the fact that "you know" isn't punctuation, how subjects and verbs really can agree, and what makes a complete sentence.

Ever have trouble with an impossible-to-understand office memo prepared by someone proud of his or her 3.8 GPA from Famous Business College? Are you a teacher who takes your work seriously only to be embarrassed by seven misspellings in your principal's half-page communication? Does it happen on Sunday when your preacher embarrasses you by butchering the language?

We have come to tolerate intolerable incompetence in our "soft" culture. We value positive strokes above real learning. We have bought the lie that self-esteem is enhanced by affirmations and undermined by correction. Balderdash! There are humiliating ways to correct a child or adult that do real harm. And correction should be given in the context of appropriate affirmation of a person's legitimate strengths. But setting people up to fail in real life by refusing to correct and mentor them in instructional settings is no favor! It is, in fact, irresponsible.

The problem isn't the ink color.
The problem isn't the ink color. If there is a wholesale shift to purple, it will soon develop whatever negatives are attached now to red. Then what?

Punishment doesn't make students or company trainees do better. But neither do false affirmations nor escape from duty. In seventh-grade essays and real-life success, accountability leading to correction is at the heart of progress.

Maybe that is why Scripture says: "Those who ignore instruction despise themselves, but those who heed correction gain understanding" (Proverbs 15:32)