The new school year is underway but a former classroom staple has disappeared, much to the regret of Richard Swerdlow.
September means a new school year. Long before students arrive, teachers are preparing - organizing classrooms, setting up rows of desks, sharpening pencils.
But one beginning-of-year ritual is no longer required. Chalk. I loved unpacking that new chalk all teachers were allocated, perfectly symmetrical white sticks in a little box, looking oddly like a pack of cigarettes, waiting for their professional life to begin on the chalkboard.
Those unused little sticks didn't look like much, but each crumbly white cylinder held great power. On chalkboards in classrooms throughout schools, chalk numbers unlocked the secrets of algebra. Chalk scrawled into word lists displayed vocabulary from the world's great literature. And chalk scribbled a little of both to demystify the science concepts of Einstein and Newton.
As the year wore on, the sticks of chalk wore down, turning to stubs, their lives worn away in writing beautiful poetry, facts from history, titles of biographies of great men and women, rules for team sports.