Blackboards are the canvas to the future

Equations, formulas and strategic plans were laid out on those thin, black pieces of slate hanging on walls, or built on stands, allowing the user to utilize both sides by simply flipping them over, like an hour glass, and erasing the words on them. Sometimes referred to as the drawing board, and if something didn’t pan out, it was “back to the drawing board for that one.”

Today seeing a blackboard is pretty rare. In most cases they have been replaced by white dry erase boards, which use special markers that wipe off when you are finished. Usually though, these leave behind a shadow of what was written on the board. Blackboards utilize chalk sticks to write on them. The most that is left after being erased is a white dust from the chalk. Usually you can’t see anything of what was drawn on the blackboard.

Blackboards are not as obsolete as you would think though. If you wander through a store that sells kitchen supplies or housewares, you can still see them being sold as novelty items for menus, things to do reminders, and calendars with white squares painted on them. Some, very few, schools even still use them where districts cannot afford to have new dry erase boards in all of their classrooms. Speaking of which, the first use of a blackboard by a teacher in the United States dates all the way back to 1801. Professor George Baron was just hired to teach mathematics at the United States Military Academy in New York. He was also going to be the school’s first superintendent and was given the job by President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. Baron, who recently immigrated from England, gave his first lecture on mathematics using a newly published Course in Mathematics by Charles Hutton, and a blackboard. That was on Sept. 21, 1801. The school where Baron taught later became known as,West Point.

There have been other famous blackboards throughout history. I’ll bet you didn’t think blackboards were so important, did you? Well, they were, and still are. Especially one. What was written on it almost 90 years ago has never been erased. It is still legible and you can see it just by taking a quick trip over the Atlantic to Oxford University in England. Once you get there, go to the History of Science Museum on campus and ask to see “The Blackboard.” They’ll know what you mean. It was an ordinary, well-used blackboard that Albert Einstein used in his second lecture there on May 16, 1931. He wrote out a theory in his class showing the connection of age, destiny, and their signs of being present in the universe. He called it The Theory of Relativity.

The formula and equation for his theory are still visible on the black slate preserved in the museum, in his own handwriting. E=MC^2. Another study had been done which most of us can say we agree with. The University of Colone, Germany, concluded that humans are “predisposed to detest the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.” Do you ever get that feeling when you are in a room, with some people with whom you are talking? Right?

After seeing how 2020 is panning out, it might just be time to go back to the drawing board. Although starting over is not always the best plan either. I guess we’ll see. Come on 2021.

George Stahl