A pink taxi

A pink taxi

April 17, 2011


The red pen is a  then national symbol for a French teacher's absolute power. These teachers have a specific way of correcting exams, essays and even homework. With a simple strike of their red pen, a comment in the margin followed by a conclusive grade, the teacher can make or break you. While American teachers have the monopoly on the word "good job!" and use star stickers,  French teachers have specific expressions like "bacle" which is an expression for work done too quickly without paying attention, or "hors sujet", while correcting essays, which means the essay has nothing to do with the subject matter. Haven't they ever heard of stream of consciousness?

I believe corrections, especially caring ones, that come midway between dramatic American leniency and extreme French criticism, are the most important pedagogical ingredient. I can still picture my own French teachers looming over our heads to correct our spelling tests, our blue fountain pen ink not yet dry on the paper.  I remember them distributing the corrected maths exams in order of descending grades. Oh those red marked commentaries!

When my son brings back copies filled with red Xs and multiple comments, I review them with him. It is very important to incorporate corrections. I apply this rule to more entertaining activities like golf or yoga.

My golf coaches are CONSTANTLY correcting me. Every input is welcome and every correction is appreciated. The correction makes sense. I try to memorize it, save it in my repertoire of movements, tell my son about it. Corrections bring about "golf talk"!

There also hasn't been a pilates class without endless corrections. The exercises aren't new, but the approach to them can always vary.  Anyone who attends bikram yoga knows that you must "lock your knees". I have attended one class at a time, locking, locking, locking! But what does "locking" mean? Locking for one person entails a different range of movement for another. A bit like locking and double locking a door. I promise myself  before each class, that I will integrate the knee variation, the "knee correction".

Mentioning corrections without citing the book Corrections by Jonathan Franzen would make this blog post incomplete. His corrections were to innate, inherited flaws. Those of children who refuse to fit genetic patterns. They will do things differently from their parents and learn from past mistakes.

In general, highlighting mistakes, ie correcting them, is the only road to unattainable perfection, whethe in golf, pilates, bikram yoga, or eventually what all these French teachers prepare us for our entire scholastic education, the French baccalaureate.


  1. At this stage in my life, I wish it had come sooner, I believe a human being must constantly evolve, not only within the world that surrounds her, but within herself. If we do not accept criticism and learn from it we are doomed to spend our days in that "time bubble" where we keep on repeating our shortcomings for ever and ever. Not only do we try to learn not to repeat but we challenge our minds to get out of the rut of stubbornness, egoism and pure stupidity. As a child we have to bear the wrath of our educators and their "red pens" and as adults we have our own "red pens" to bear, that is if we are open to it! If we do not evolve, we will never reach that place of "perfection" we all crave for, even if it is unattainable.