As a teacher and a lifelong student, I have always been wary of those who choose to aggressively use a blue editor pencil to belittle an author, or a teacher who wields a red pen like a cudgel to punish a student writing effort.  U.S. Representative Mark Takano is a teacher who has, unfortunately, proven himself to be in the latter category as a pedantic wonk who ruins the idea teaching to learn by making a mockery of the important and real process of revision.

Here’s what Rep. Takano said on his Tumblr account — as he tried to explain his overzealous political persecution of the other side of the aisle — and he oddly starts his defense with an incomplete sentence:

A draft letter by Republican members to Speaker Boehner is circulating congress looking for cosigners. I thought I’d offer my edits to the author before they submitted their final version… Still not signing it.

I realize Takano is going for laughs against cruelty, but the joke is really on him because this sort of feedback is never successful and it gives real teachers a terrible name by playing into the stereotype that nothing is ever good enough to get a passing grade.

You don’t help someone understand something by picking at them with a red pen.  If this is how Takano gave his students feedback, then it’s a good thing he’s warehoused in Congress and not the classroom.

Feedback like that would not only crush an undergraduate’s mind, but the graduate level thinker as well.  If the idea of teaching is to seamlessly transfer memes and learning and understanding from one mind to another, you don’t do that via a marked up piece of paper riddled with red ink.

I used to teach in the English department of a major, East Coast, private school and the head of the English Writing program was a religious zealot who also believed in the Takano editorial style of teaching, leadership, and dealing with the faculty and staff.

Only he knew the right answers.  Only his way was the right way.  Only imperfectly following him made you semi-worthy of his attention, and it was all managed by his little red pen clutched in a rigid, furious, fist — just waiting to strike you and mark you up and write you down for any little perceived faux fatality of the mind.

The greatest thing I learned from that experience was negative feedback without inspiration never wins the day.  Only patience and support and thoughtful questions help expand the mind into the greater, outer, plains.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

2 Comments

  1. Oh, this is actually pretty funny I think. I certainly hope, though, he didn’t use this style of teaching with his high school students.

    I used to love writing and think I have the potential to be a little better than average. I always liked the critiques my teachers would write on my papers – I learned from them and I think it helped me improve my writing. But this? Yikes! You have to admit though, Takano makes some very valid points.

    This is how I imagine readers reacting to my posts. (well, ok – READER) Which is why I have such a hard time writing what is really on my mind.

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    1. You make a lot of excellent points — as usual! SMILE!

      Yes, we know Takano is going for an effect — he’s being especially prickly in his grading to score political points, not make the writing any better. I would certainly hope he’d have a softer and less red approach with his students.

      You make a good point about feedback and writing in public — I took on that notion in this post:

      https://bolesblogs.com/2010/11/01/writing-for-yourself-you-are-the-center-of-the-panopticon/

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      Reply

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