OPINION: A Few Plain Words on Whiteboards

One summer, I went to Tennessee. I read the poems of Wyatt Prunty, ate barbecue, and did math. But there was one indelible stain on this experience, which would inform the rest of my life—I had to use a whiteboard.

Whiteboards were developed during the late 50s and early 60s, and they have been a burden to students ever since. I have no prejudice against whiteboards themselves; rather, it is their inferiority to blackboards that has brought them into my opprobrium.

The main flaw with the whiteboard is that is not very good for writing on, which is unfortunate because this is its main purpose of existence. With a dry erase marker, one can produce a line on the whiteboard and not much else. It is next to impossible to vary the thickness of the line being drawn in a useful way: the marker itself is so delicate that one fears pressing too hard and destroying the tip, having to throw away two more dollars to purchase a new marker as a result.

Writing on a blackboard, however, is expressive: one can push the chalk forcefully against the board to create girthy lines, or lightly use the corner of the chalk to effect little wisps. If one wishes to shade in an entire region, one simply holds the chalk sideways. This is not to say that it is impossible to change the intensity of the color produced with a dry erase marker. Indeed, such a varying intensity seems to be a feature of the marker, which, after being unwrapped, writes more faintly with every passing minute.

Dry erase markers immediately fail to meet the expectation their name creates: they do not function when dry. Rather, they dry out and become useless. However, unlike chalk, which shrinks with use until it disappears, dry erase markers remain a constant temptation. A good marker is indistinguishable from a bad marker; each marker must be tested individually to see if it is serviceable. However, because many markers are already fairly dry, one must adjust his or her tolerance to the markers at hand, and frequently make do with inferior writing. Furthermore, attempting to write with a half-dead marker tempts the user to apply more pressure in the hope of creating a sufficiently dark line, which in fact produces no stronger a mark but simply flattens the felt tip.

The problems do not end once the whiteboard has been written on. Walking away from a board and returning a day later, one finds that the ink from the markers no longer brushes away with the eraser, in which case one must use a special whiteboard cleaning fluid. The ink becomes indelible even more quickly if one mistakes a permanent marker for a dry erase marker. Conversely, the markings on a blackboard are just as easily removed one minute after they are made as they are a week later. An eraser suffices in most cases, but, for a like-new clean, one may quickly wash a blackboard with water using a mop and squeegee.

Chalk is simpler and cheaper to use than dry erase markers. The complicated mechanism of the dry erase maker consists of a cap and a barrel. If the cap is lost, or is accidentally left off of the marker, then the marker dries out and is destroyed. Chalk is quite forgiving. Even when broken in half, it remains chalk.

There are certainly other reasons to prefer blackboards to whiteboards, yet there is only one true test—try both yourself. The math faculty conducts almost every class writing on the board, and a single lecture may fill twelve panels. Their preference for writing space, however? Unequivocally the blackboard. Indeed, if the preference of those who write so prolifically does not sell you on the blackboard, then I do not know what will.

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