Of funnels and ladders

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Last night in class, I drew a funnel and a ladder on a blackboard. You remember blackboards, don’t you? Most have been replaced by cheaper whiteboards, but they’re a poor substitute.

The gritty drag of a chalk stick against smooth slate — the sound of writing with its taps and scratches — those are the sense memories of learning. A wet marker sliding on an dry erase plastic surface lacks the tactile quality that chalk and board possess.

When I walked into the classroom and saw that dark expanse of slate, I decided to draw part of my lesson. Below the chalkboard, a metal ledge with a narrow lip held white sticks at fat as my fingers, some stubby, others long, all lying in a bed of chalk dust.

For centuries, to read meant viewing black type on white paper, to write meant scratching graphite or ink onto a white page. The blackboard stands in diametrical opposition, the contrast of white against black a reversal of the printed page. Another delightful contrast: those fat velvety felt erasers. Gliding across the hard surface, they soften sharp mistakes into indistinct smudges. So iconic, those blackboard erasers.

By all rights, the Urban Dictionary definition of  “old school” should include blackboard, chalk, and eraser. Continue reading