A Philosopher's Blog

A Farewell to Chalk

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 28, 2010
stick-slip effect with a shalk on a blackboard
Image via Wikipedia

As a young student, I was not very fond of chalkboards, probably because they often figured prominently in various punishments (cleaning them or writing something 100 times on them both come to mind). In college I grew indifferent to them, but when I first started teaching I disliked them. Too much dust, too much squeak.

Then I encountered dry erase markers and white boards. At first, they seemed kind of cool: bright colors, no dust, and no squeak. My positive view lasted about as long as my first dry erase marker (that is, not long).

One reason for my lack of love for dry erase is purely practical: the markers cost way more than chalk. But, one might wonder, why should I care? Doesn’t the school provide supplies? Well, I did get a box of expo markers once, a few years ago. Since then I have had to buy my own.  Chalk is wicked cheap, so my wicked cheap side likes chalk.

Another reason for my lack of love is that the dry erase markers are plastic and run out quick. That means that at the end of the semester I’ve used up a lot of plastic. Sure, they might recycle it (or not), but chalk just turns to dust as you use it. I suspect that creating chalk also has less environmental impact. Or perhaps they have to kill an endangered chalk owl to make each box. I never asked because I suspect that might be true.

Chalk also has in its favor that you can tell how much chalk is left in a piece by looking at it. With a dry erase marker, I find out that it is dead when I try to write, then start digging through my backpack trying to find a live one. Never had that problem with chalk.

Another handy thing is that when another professor was out of chalk, I could easily break my piece in half, thus sharing the chalk. While I can break a dry erase marker in half, that generally does not work out quite so well.

Sadly (or maybe not) I’ve accepted that my chalk days are over. All the classrooms where I teach now have dry erase boards (probably to condition the students for corporate culture by getting them accustomed to  people  putting ridiculous things up on a white board). I admit that I have been carrying a few pieces of chalk, on the off chance I would someday see a blackboard again. But, I accepted the end today and put my chalk away.

Of course, I didn’t throw it away. Maybe someday we’ll learn that dry erase markers cause thyroid inversion or spontaneous goat pox and the chalk board will be back. On that day I will be ready, regardless of how poxed my goats are.

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12 Responses

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  1. idontcare-ish said, on September 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Well as a student, I like dry erase better because even if I have no idea why, I feel more comfortable reading what’s on the board with those.

  2. Greg Camp said, on September 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve had the same regret for many years. Chalk worked. Chalk felt good. A chalkboard was easy to wipe clean. There was no reason to replace it, other than a misguided impulse for change itself. Every now and then, one of the new-fangled markers produces such a noxious odor that I feel the urge to smash some fancy machines and lead a Luddite revolution.

    Alas, these days, we’re as likely to have to teach on-line classes, so even the dry-erase board may be a thing of the past soon. I long for the days of teaching by walking in a garden and writing in the sand with a stick, but those were a little before my time.

  3. The Mental Secretary said, on September 28, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    There’s something about chalk dust that is so…revolting. I just hate the way it makes my hands feel. Although I do like the sound it makes when it hits the chalkboard. As long as I’m the student, I don’t mind.

  4. ravespot said, on September 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    My teachers at high school found another use for chalk and dusters – they were very effective missiles against miscreants in the back of the class.

  5. kernunos said, on September 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Why couldn’t you just be eccentric and wheel your own board around?


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