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To the Editor:

Without wanting to detract from the important issues raised by Peter D. Relic in "Back to the Blackbeard," (Commentary, Oct. 2, 1991), it should be noted that many would refute the claim that "the blackboard was first used by a teacher at Bowdoin College about 2823."

While there is considerable risk in attempting to identify the person or place that is "first," the American educator most often recognized for introducing this technology is Samuel Read Hall (1795-1877), in the district school in Rumford, Maine, in 1816, several years before the Bowdoin claim.

According to the Cyclopedia of Education, "the late Henry Barnard is authority for the statement that Hall used blackboards in the district schools that he taught." It is a claim that is repeated in the Dictionary of American Biographies and the Biographical Dictionary of American Educators.

In a history of Rumford (1890), the author William B. Lapham writes that Hall "introduced many improved methods of imparting instruction, one of which was the use of the blackboard, which was used for the first time in an American school, in a district school in Rumford taught by Mr. Hall in 1816." Mr. Lapham notes that he heard it from "the lips of Abel Wheeler of Rumford, who was a teacher in this town contemporaneous with Mr. Hall."

The first blackboard was reportedly a large sheet of dark paper used to illustrate arithmetic work to show student examples and help inspire confidence.

Later, in Concord, Vt., says this account, "he [Samuel Read Hall] had the plastering painted black and used in the same method that blackboards are now used. About this time this method was adopted in a large number of the schools of this county, using boards as well as painting the plastering."

Some also say Mr. Hall invented the eraser, made of a small piece of board covered with a piece of tanned sheepskin.

Perhaps more important is the fact that Samuel Read Hall was "first" in a remarkable number of ways that influenced education for generations. He established the first school for training teachers (1823), wrote the first book in America for teachers (1829), helped begin some of the earliest organizations to promote education, and introduced new methods for teaching history and geography.

Mr. Hall was an innovator in virtually every aspect of education and would have strongly endorsed Peter Relic's view that the fundamental issue deserving attention is the relationship between the teacher and the student.

Todd Levy
Nathan Hale Middle School
Norwalk, Conn.

To the Editor:

Your article on the Spencer Foundation ("For Education Scholars Facing Scant Funding, Chicago-Based Foundation Proves a 'Godsend,' "Fo cus On, Oct. 2, 1991) was well-done publicity for a worthy enterprise. This relatively small foundation's support for education research merits praise and replication.

However, the only aspect that you neglected and that needs correction prior to replication is the bias, at least in the National Academy of Education fellowship program, toward researchers in social sciences and humanities other (or rather) than education. This skew only partially reflects the quantity and quality of research from other disciplines; it also reflects the very bias against, and low esteem of, research within the field of education that such programs should help alleviate, not aggravate.

Perry A. Zirkel
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, Pa.

To the Editor:

In your Sept. 4, 1991, issue the generous gift of the late Claude Moore to endow an educational foundation was reported (Philanthropy). It was rather tacky that you reported that "he often ate from tin cans." When I leave my millions to a charitable education fund, please don't report that I mend my own underwear and carry my school lunch in a plastic cheese container.

Phyllis L. Green
Eldridge, Iowa

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 26

Published in Print: October 16, 1991, as Letters to the Editor
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