Monday, January 21, 2008

Continuing Antipathy

Whiteboards! Oh what did we ever do to deserve this, the bane of fine teachers everywhere? I hate 'em! They're ugly! They're always stained and covered with that funky inkdust! They're pretentiously, corporately hip! And worst of all, those curséd markers are always ALWAYS out of juice!

But so that you don't think I hate things unreservedly and without reason (as if there was anything wrong with that), I got on good old Wikipedia to see where the dang things come from. It seems that whiteboards were created in response to some people being allergic to chalk dust. Great. Fantastic. I can accept that, except that later in the article I found this sentence: "Some people are sensitive or allergic to the strong odour of most whiteboard markers."1

In fact, the more I read, the more inconsistencies I found. Pretty much every advantage was countered with a disadvantage, like how chalk gets all over the room and all over your clothes—but it washes out—whereas dry erase ink never ever does. Or how whiteboards are supposedly easier to see, but "The white background can cause contrast problems for people with vision impairment." They claim whiteboards offer multiple colors, which is a plus, but have they forgotten about, uh, sidewalk chalk? I've only ever seen about four crummy colors of marker, but I've seen entire spectrums of chalk.2 Furthermore, the article points out that while chalk is a naturally occurring mineral, the production of dry erase markers relies on petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Pretty much the only thing whiteboards have going for them is that they are lighter than chalkboards, which is true. The classroom I teach in has this sissy whiteboard on a flimsy frame—the thing can't really take the pressure of being written on without swaying and rocking like it's high on the marker fumes. Would a chalkboard do that? Heck no. Heavier is obviously better. It's a fact that we all subconsciously link weight with quality: Lincoln Towncars over Geo Metros, the Riverside Complete Shakespeare over a Dover Thrift Edition of Hamlet, special edition 2-disc DVD collectors editions over the normal fullscreen edition (widescreen just feels heavier)—even a nice solid box of Cheerios or Raisin Bran feels like quality in the hand compared to Honeycombs or something puffed. I heard recently that they found some old chalkboards in Provo that still held the handwriting of Karl G. Maeser, dated 1900.3 Would whiteboards have survived a hundred years in an attic? I think not.

Is not chalk the very fragrance of academia, the soil in which tweed-jacketed seeds germinate and blossom, the fairy dust left by the muses' touch on our lives? The click-swish of a teacher's chalk sings in sprightly counterpoint to his students' scritching pencils, while the squeek of a dry erase marker is only the sickly rattle of Death's swinging scythe. Whiteboards reek of staff meetings, of stale coffee, and of seas of white ceiling tiles. They breed only weedy buzzwords and brambled flowcharts and offer—instead of an endless dark upon which the spirit might brood, an as-yet-uncreated expanse—only the blaring bleached white of the Corporation, the framed stencil of the Accepted Procedure, the identical albino twin of the Policy Handbook's first page. The whiteboard invites us to sit up and listen attentively to yet another manager, the chalkboard to sit back with El Presidente himself and enjoy today's special: the Awesome Blossom.4

Chalk art by Sean McAfee

The blackboard is pure potential; it is primordial. The whiteboard is a prescription; it is a fence already whitewashed and Tom Sawyer already off to find adventure in a cave.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here is what I found when googling for whiteboard art, and here's what I got for chalk art. It's no comparison (although I did find this cool video).

1Actually, only Brits are allergic to the odour of dry erase markers. Us Americans are only allergic to odors (but the occasional colour does set me off).
2Also I remember the music teacher in Elementary school having this wood-and-wire thing that held five pieces of chalk equidistantly apart so she could draw a perfect music staff on the board in a single stroke. I have yet to see a whiteboard pull that trick. I guess every good board does fine after all.
3Karl G. Maeser was principal of Brigham Young Academy, the school that eventually became BYU. Read all about the chalkboards here.
4So it turns out Chili's has a myspace page, complete with an electronic chalkboard you can draw on. Go figure.


Jennifer said...

I hate chalk. Hate it. Hate hate hate. I do not like to touch it EVER. I hate chalkboards and erasers and chalk dust and the sound chalk makes on the board and the sound the eraser makes on the board. I hate the board. I HATE chalk. I don't care about dry erase odors. I don't even care about their odours. I like them. I have them in teal and pink and purple and lime. I even have brown. BROWN. I don't do art, so I don't care about how they perform. I use a whiteboard with a chalkboard on the other side, so it isn't flimsy. I have no dry erase stains. I think they are lovely lovely lovely. I don't have to press harder to make it visible. I don't have to wipe my fingers off when I put it down. I don't have to worry that it will unexpectedly make that horrible screeching sound chalk makes. Dry erase markers always squeak. A little mouse squeak. Not a nerve-shattering screech. So there.

agirlwho said...

Not to mention, chalkboards provide plenty of busywork for classroom delinquents. Let them bang out a couple erasers to get them back on track. Whiteboards just don't leave any room for punishment opportunities.

Also, do you remember that thingy teachers would use to put like, five pieces of chalk into and draw either lines for music notation or whatever else. Those were cool!

Anna B said...

almost you make me like chalkboards