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Professional Learning

Readers’ Survey 2006: Worst Old-School Teaching Tool That Should Be Tossed

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.

April 3, 2006
Credit: Edutopia

The Lecture

The lecture, a dreaded tool in every arena, was the "winner." Testing, a hallmark of the much-loathed No Child Left Behind Act, nipped in right behind, with the chalkboard and chalk on its heels. Yes, there were other aged teaching tools on the list -- corporal punishment, detention, ye olde overhead projector, memorization, and textbooks. Desks and Ritalin had a place in the choir, too. But a favorite, with just one wee vote, was "humorlessness." Mumbled by a voice in the wilderness, to be sure, but the inspiration for our farewell to the chalkboard (at right).

Our Take

The Slate Chalkboard

Slate Chalkboard -- Old Friend, Recent Foe -- Dies in Obscurity

The chalkboard, an education revolutionary and an icon of American learning culture, died recently after a long decline. It was (approximately) 205 years old.

Though its earliest years are a matter of debate, the chalkboard is believed to be the brainchild of a Scottish geography teacher who showed up at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the early 1800s. Its dramatic rise to power, which led to the extinction of individual student slates nationwide, presaged its sad end. Once the dutiful intimate of millions of teachers, and the object of thrall for many more millions of children, the chalkboard ended its life accused of dullness and uselessness and more.

"I have allergies, and I don't like chalk," said special education teacher JoAnne Anthony when her school dumped chalkboards for whiteboards back in 1999. "I don't like it on my hands and on my clothes."

The battle was on, as the upstart, porcelain-coated glossy whiteboard wooed educators with flashy color markers, quiet efficiency, and a dust-free relationship, but even the whiteboard has been steamrolled by the next big thing in classroom communication: the giant computer-screen writing surface, which offers more -- printing capability, memory, flashing lights -- than the chalkboard ever dreamed possible.

Unwelcome in all but the poorest and most archaic learning institutions, the chalkboard hung on by its bolts in 2002. That year, Peggy Kidwell, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, said, "I do wonder what's going to happen to all the youth who were sent forward to clean erasers. "That always seemed like a good use of youthful energy."

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