June 15, 2004

Disabusing Notions

So tonight was fun in German class. We started a chapter all about giving directions and finding things on a map and our book has a picture of a "typical" German town with buildings. Matthias, our teacher, was telling us about typical German street names and how they appear in just about every German town (the same names). We then moved to towns in America and Matthias was under the impression that all streets in the U.S. had numbers rather than names. I disabused that notion, and then he asked what they were called. "Well," I said, and thought frantically. "Many are named after trees." "Trees?" he said. "Trees," I said, reaching for my dictionary thinking I had chosen the wrong word. "You know, Pine, Maple, Oak, things like that." "Oh, trees!" he said. He still looked rather puzzled, so I explained that SOME streets are numbered. So now this poor guy is walking around with the impression that all streets in the U.S. are either numbered or named after trees. It was a complex situation.

Then later he was writing on the board and ran out of the room to wet the eraser-thing. See, in German classrooms there's a regular chalkboard but rather than use what we Americans would consider an eraser, they use what looks like a chamois cloth (in fact, I think it exactly matches the one I use on my car) and they use it wet. After having wet the chamois he returned and said that there's a problem in Germany with teachers having lung problems with chalk dust. So I piped up. "Well in the U.S., they use a...uh...dry...material--no, fabric...yeah, fabric...to...uh...repair the board." "Dry?" he asked. Again, I reached for the dictionary wondering if I'd chosen the right word. Luckily my Brazilian seatmate Marianna spoke up, "Yeah...in Brazil also...dry...without water." We looked at each other and nodded. "Without water."

"Something something something--cough" he said, which I took to mean "But what about white-lung disease, which everyone knows is caused by chalk dust." Marianna and I could only look at each other and shrug. It was our way of saying "Well, the teacher's unions have never spoken up about it so obviously it's either not a threat or a vast right-wing conspiracy is keeping poor black children in substandard educational facilities because new teachers are avoiding the profession due to the prevalent chalk-dust danger." Or something like that. Our message seemed pretty clear and we moved on to other topics.

Posted by Shelby at June 15, 2004 01:41 AM

A little off topic, but nevertheless: Happy Birthday, Shelby! I wish you all the best, lots of presents, lots of hugs, and a big cake!

I've been reading Kevin's blog for quite some time now, and enjoy reading the views of an American living in my favourite German city - I didn't know you had a blog, too. Goes straight to my blogroll for sure!

As for the chalk-on-blackboard-problem: usually, a sponge is used to clean blackboards. Usually, it's wet. Then again, that chalk dust is nasty. Pupils or teachers suffering from allergic asthma often do have problems with the dust. So nowadays, a lot of blackboards are exchanged and whiteboards are hung up which you can write on with these special whiteboard markers available in many colors (preferrably black). That has the advantage of a) improved readability (black on white is supposed to be better readable than chalk-white on dark green), b) the possibility to use many differnt colors (see above) and c) eliminating the chalk dust danger problem (g) since whitboards are wiped with a dry cloth. On the other hand, there are solvents in the markers which, if inhaled regularily and in large quantities, may or may not be carcinogenic.

Which once again proves that theory that pupils and teachers do have a strenuous, tedious, dangerous job no matter what other people think... ;-)

Posted by: -buck at June 15, 2004 11:21 AM

Thanks for the birthday wishes, Buck. It's funny because as I said, they use dry erasers on chalkboards in the US and it does create a tremendous amount of chalk dust. You would think with as litigious as Americans are, somebody would have sued someone else by now about the chalk dust issue, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

We too use whiteboards--I never heard that the pens could be carcinogenic though! The problem with whiteboards is the "ghosting" issue where the color seeps into the board and doesn't get fully erased. There's a special spray you can use to get that off, but it stinks up the whole room. I'm quite sure THAT stuff is carcinogenic.

Anyway, thanks for sharing the German perspective. I hope you enjoy my blog.

Posted by: Shelby at June 15, 2004 04:39 PM
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