Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back to School with the Cavendish Historical Society: Make a Chalkboard

While students and teachers today have the advantages of “smart boards,” “white boards” and other technology, to use as visual aids when teaching in a class room, up until the early 1800’s teachers had no easy means of presenting information. Not only were pencils and papers in short supply, but also students used flat wood board painted over with black grit. It wasn’t uncommon for teachers, who lacked supplies and the funds to purchase them, to write the alphabet on the back of students’ hands.

George Baron, an instructor at West Point Military Academy, is thought to be the first American instructor to use a large black slate chalkboard, when teaching math, in 1801. By the mid-1800s, a blackboard was to be found in almost every school and had become the single most important educational tool. Chalkboards remained the primary all-around educational fixture in schoolrooms and businesses for almost 200 years.

Many rural schools used the slate material chalkboard, a labor saving device for teachers and allowing them to educate many more children at one time. However, the Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) found that not all of Cavendish’s rural schools adopted the slate chalkboard.

The Rumke School (Greenbush Rd in Cavendish) was closed in 1923. Left untouched, the property owners, Al and Diana Leonard, donated the teacher’s blackboard, to the Museum. This one room schoolhouse was still using the old method of combining un sanded grout and paint. Given the combination of Yankee thrift and lack of funds, many of the Cavendish rural one-room schoolhouses most likely used similar methods.

As part of CHS’s “Hands on History” program, on Sunday September 9, a free workshop is being offered whereby participants can make their own chalkboard and see the one from the Rumke School. The workshop begins at 2 pm.

This workshop has been made possible in part by a grant from the Cavendish Community Fund, a project of the Cavendish Community and Conservation Association (CCCA).

For more information, call 802-226-7807 or e-mail

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