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100-Year-Old Lessons Discovered On Chalkboards At Oklahoma School

At an Oklahoma City high school last week, what started out as a routine job for contractors – switching out chalkboards for whiteboards – unearthed some incredible pieces of history: hidden chalkboards with lessons from 1917 almost perfectly preserved.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Sherry Read, a math teacher at Emerson High School, where the chalkboards were discovered.

Interview Highlights: Sherry Read

On her reaction to seeing the chalkboards

“It was just incredible. The drawings are pristine. They look like they were drawn yesterday. And just look at the beautiful colors, and the math work that was on the board. And then you look at the calendar and it says 1917, and you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, this is almost a hundred years old.'”

“I feel like we’ve unearthed cave drawings or unearthed King Tut’s tomb. It’s an archaeological find that’s just incredible.”

On decoding math lessons from the past

“There was a multiplication circle that we’re in the process of trying to figure out. What did they do with this, and how did they use it? Because none of us have used that particular method of multiplication before.”

Her response to the passage about Pilgrims

The Pilgrims lived long ago in England. The English king would not let them go to their own churches. The Pilgrims said, ‘We will go to Holland.’ The Pilgrims said ‘our children will grow up like the Dutch children.’

“I think they were doing this as a history lesson to talk about the religious freedom that brought them to America in the first place. When you think about it in that respect, in 1917, Oklahoma would have only been a state for 10 years, so they were just as much pilgrims or pioneers of their time as the Pilgrims were.”

Guest

One of the chalkboards discovered at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
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One of the chalkboards discovered at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
Here's a music lesson from nearly 100 years ago. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
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Here's a music lesson from nearly 100 years ago. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
A wheel used to teach multiplication tables appears on one board. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
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A wheel used to teach multiplication tables appears on one board. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
Another chalkboard shows a lesson on pilgrims.  (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
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Another chalkboard shows a lesson on pilgrims. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
Drawings of pilgrims appear on one of the chalkboards, apparently preserved since 1917. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)
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Drawings of pilgrims appear on one of the chalkboards, apparently preserved since 1917. (Oklahoma City Public Schools)

  • Sherry Read, math teacher at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.