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Professional Learning

Readers’ Survey 2006: Best Old-School Teaching Tool That Has Not Gone Out of Style

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.

April 3, 2006
Credit: Edutopia

The Pencil

If this isn't heartwarming, what is? In a world of cheap ballpoint pens and not-so-cheap word processing, having the quintessential writing instrument show up at the top of the response list is like saying hello to Mr. Chips. There is something so simple, so sincere, and so chewable about a good old-fashioned wooden dowel encasing a 1-millimeter rod of graphite. For all our technical advances, school would not be school without it. Overhead projectors placed a not-so-close second, and the pencil's boon companion, paper, took the show position.

Our Take

The Faber Mongol #2 Pencil

To properly praise the simple and brilliant word processing hardware known as the pencil, it is necessary to sharpen one's point and draw a satisfyingly dark circle around the exemplary writing instrument that set the standard by which all subsequent pencils have been measured: the Faber Mongol #2.

The "lead" in this beauty is the perfect mixture of clay and graphite, neither resistant nor smudgy. The wooden shaft is coated with many layers of the most cheerful yellow paint, and the eraser is so embedded that, according to company lore, an anxious test taker would have to exert 5 pounds of pressure to pull one off with his or her teeth.

For this taken-for-granted miracle, we can thank Eberhard Faber, a German immigrant who, in the mid-nineteenth century, built America's first pencil factory where the United Nations building now stands in New York City. Did he name his product Mongol because it is as tough and hardy as the famed warriors of Genghis Khan? No one seems sure. But because the pencil can be sharpened seventeen times and will last through about 45,000 words (or draw a 35-mile-long line, if you're so inclined), what meticulous Mongolian bureaucrat wouldn't be proud to wield one? Truly, it's the write stuff.

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