School classrooms have changed quite a bit over the years. Thanks to advancements in technology and a growing obsession with social media sharing, we know that classrooms of today are increasingly more hip and modern. Check out Pinterest or Instagram (#classroomdecor) and you will find thousands of bright, cheery classroom photos depicting cozy reading corners, couches, wall art, and a plethora of technology: laptops, tablets, projectors, and SMART Boards. (Some teachers even use Sporcle in the classroom.)
Still, despite all the gadgets and gizmos, a classroom is still that – a classroom. And where there is a classroom, there are desks and books and the ever faithful, good ol’ fashioned blackboard… or should we say greenboard?
Yes, name aside, we know that most blackboards aren’t actually black. But why is that? Why are so many blackboards green? Time to take off your backpack, sharpen your pencils, and stay a while. This is one of those random, fun fact stories that will make you the hero of the group next time you’re at trivia night.
The History of Blackboards
The history of blackboards actually beings a long time ago. As far back as Ancient Mesopotamia, Babylonian and Sumerian students inscribed lessons in cuneiform writing on tablets made of clay. Similar methods were used in other cultures throughout the world.
By the 18th century, students in America and Europe had long given up using clay tablets, instead opting for individual slates. These were made of actual slate or pieces of wood, and coated with paint.
In those days, paper and ink were luxury items, but slate and wood were available to all. Still, despite the economic benefits of these slates, they had their impracticalities. Mainly, teachers had no way to visually present problems or lessons to the class. Instead, they would often have to write things out on slates for students individually.
It’s hard to come up with an official date or definitive first use, but by the early 1800s, educators were beginning to realize that large pieces of slate could be used as mechanisms for displaying writing to an entire class. Among the first to put this into practice were a Scottish headmaster named James Pillan and a West Point instructor named George Baron.
As you probably can guess, these large slates were black. The term “blackboard” was used at least by 1815. And by the mid-19th century, even rural American schools had a blackboard. Cheap and easy to use, the blackboard was a huge success, and education would never be the same.
Why Are So Many Blackboards Green?
Slate continued to be used for blackboards for a long time. But by the 20th century, the material was starting to get more expensive to ship. Slate also had some durability issues, and by the 1960s, manufacturers opted for a new product. Instead of slate, a green, porcelain-based enamel board began showing up in classrooms all over.
Still, old habits die hard, and the name “blackboard” was still commonly used. Gradually, some students and teachers adopted a more appropriate name – chalkboard. Even today though, over two hundred years after the first rudimentary blackboard came to fruition, amidst the MacBooks and Smart Boards, the floor pillows, and the cutesy wall art, on the wall you will still see a blackboard, and you will still hear it referred to as such.