Interesting piece from The Atlantic on the history of the chalkboard and its enduring role in education.
In 2015, the construction crew renovating an Oklahoma high school uncovered an unusual time capsule. Beneath newer wall coverings, the workers discovered slate blackboards marked with schoolwork and colorful chalk drawings from 1917. Multiplication problems appeared beside a treble staff denoting an A-major scale. A spelling list, written in cursive, included the words “whoa” and “notion.” Drawings of Thanksgiving turkeys and a girl blowing bubbles adorned the spaces between the lessons.
Reports of the discovery spotlighted the chalk, acknowledging the blackboards merely as surfaces for the drawings. But slate blackboards, and the green chalkboards that replaced them, are themselves relics of a bygone era. Even small schools in rural communities, like the elementary school I attended in Nebraska in the 1980s, have exchanged chalkboards for whiteboards and interactive Smart Boards.
I never considered the chalkboard’s prominence in my education until I visited my old school in 2015. It shouldn’t have surprised me to find a whiteboard where the chalkboard had been, but the change was startling. No matter how young, most parents today still conjure the image of a chalkboard when they imagine a K-12 classroom. In popular culture, chalkboards are a visual shorthand for school. They appear in stock photography accompanying articles about education and in movies and television shows set in schools.
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