Chalkboards are not nearly as pervasive as they used to be. The traditional chalkboard has been replaced by dry erase boards that use ink markers for writing and drawing rather than chalk. Many millions of people have been exposed to the smell of chalk and the cringe-inducing sound made by fingernails being scratched down a chalkboard, but some of the facts about this traditional piece of school equipment remain unknown.
The origin of chalkboards traces back to 1823 when a minister and educator named Samuel Reed Hall painted pine boards black. Chalk could then be used to write on the board and then be cleaned off to allow future use. Another precursor that led to the invention of the modern day chalkboard was the practice of spreading a combination of lime, plaster of Paris and black soot on the wall. This effectively created a kind of chalkboard, but really messed up the wall and wasn’t nearly as easy to clean.
Some debate surrounds the question of who actually invented the chalkboard as it became known. James Pillans, Headmaster of the Old High School of Edinburgh, Scotland, is most often credited with inventing the chalkboard. While there is no question that Pillans used the blackboard to teach geography, little information is available that provides any insight into the actual invention process. For all we know, Pillans could have Edisoned the chalkboard by getting someone to invent it for him and then taking all the credit.
The original chalkboards were made of slate and colored either black or dark grey. This gave rise to the term blackboard to describe a chalkboard. Many Americans have never even seen an actual blackboard, however. This is because the next generation of chalkboards were more often colored green. These greenboards are constructed of porcelain enamel attached to steel at its base.
Chalkboards do have an advantage over the newer plastic dry erase boards. The surface of dry erase boards are slippery and thus subject to illegible writing. The rougher surface of chalkboards means that writing done with chalk is less subject to smearing and therefore produces a clearer result that is easier to read, especially from a distance.
One of the most important aspects of the chalkboard that contributed to its replacement with dry erase boards is the effect of chalk dust. Anyone who was ever held after class was over and received punishment in the form of clapping the erasers clean can attest to the sickening quality of chalk dust. The use of chalkboard erasers tended to produce quite a bit of this dust that was then circulated throughout the room. Anyone in the room experiencing respiratory problems or allergies faced the potential of their health problems being aggravated by the accumulation of chalk dust. This disadvantage has been reduced in recent times due to the invention of dust free chalks.
Despite the reduction in the number and use of chalkboards, this traditional piece of school equipment has managed to slip into the consciousness of even those who have never seen an actual chalkboard. The beginning of almost every episode of the animated TV series “The Simpsons” begins with Bart facing what used to be another common punishment doled out by teachers: writing the same sentence over and over on the blackboard.
What a dumb punishment. What a dumb punishment. What a dumb punishment. What a dumb punishment.