When contractors removed the chalkboards from four classrooms in an Oklahoma High School last week to make way for white boards, they found something they didn’t expect: More chalkboards, bearing writing and drawings dating from 1917. The school’s discovery of the century old chalkboards gives fascinating insight into the daily lives of children and teachers in the early 20th century, showing what they were working on and how they learned.
The well-preserved chalkboards, found at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City, illustrate a number of facets of life at the school in 1917. One board features a calendar, marking off days of December; another contains advice about how to be clean, while another has remnants of a music lesson. Apparently, the students were learning about pilgrims, as every room features a lesson about them. The drawings and writing demonstrate how much some things have changed in the last century. Some of the boards feature penmanship lessons, for example, an increasingly rare thing in our age of computers. Emerson High School Principal Sherry Kishore told The Oklahoman,
The penmanship blows me away … because you don’t see a lot of that anymore. We have kids that come that prefer to print because they don’t know how to do cursive. … Some of the handwriting in some of these rooms is beautiful.
She also points out that one room features a diagram used for learning multiplication tables. It’s an antiquated method, and she admits, “I have never seen that technique in my life.” But as much as the chalkboards illustrate how life has altered over the course of 98 years, what is even more intriguing (to me, at least) is how similar many of the chalkboard’s drawings and lessons are to those of today. Despite the many cultural, social, and technological changes of the last century, the chalkboards' colorful drawings, still bright after all this time, don’t look so different from what we would draw on the chalkboard when I was a kid. It’s rather humbling to imagine those children learning and making their ways through life a century ago, just as we and so many others have done.
Fortunately, the chalkboards will not be destroyed or re-covered. According to The Washington Post, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City Public School District said that it currently negotiating with the city to “preserve the ‘chalk’ work of the teachers that has been captured in time.”
Check out this video from The Oklahoman to see more of the drawings.