In these modern times, most of us fondly (or not so fondly) remember sitting in a wooden or plastic school desk as our lessons were delivered to us. Some of us listened with the utmost attention, while others doodled our crushes' names in the lower corner while the instructor droned on like Charlie Brown's teacher. Whatever our experience in school, the desk was certainly a large part of it. In this article, we'll look at a brief history of school desks and how they've evolved over time.
The Before Times
School desks were not invented until 1880. Before that time, few children went to school, as there were no laws mandating that they attend school. Many worked in factories or for their parents. The lucky ones who received education were tutored at home where they studied at adult-sized desks. If they did go to an actual school, they either studied on long tables in lecture halls, or, in poorer areas, sat on benches where they studied without a desk and struggled to write on their laps.
The First Model
The first school desk was made in 1880 by John D. Loughlin in Sidney, Ohio. The desk, known as "The Fashion Desk," proved to be extremely popular across the country. The practicality of the desks allowed for many to be put together in a one room schoolhouse, and the fashion aspect of it was aesthetically pleasing to those in the education industry. Loughlin's marketing campaign also helped to sell these desks, which would eventually sweep the nation. The "Fashion Desks" were desks attached to one another and were big enough to seat two or three children. Usually, there was an inkwell so that the student could replenish his pen's supply.
The Next Generation
Loughlin's desk model became popular and remained so for many years. As time went on and the need for students to store papers and homework increased, desks were designed to accommodate these changing needs. Desks were manufactured with "cubbyholes" underneath where students could place their books. Some desks were designed with surfaces that lifted up so students could put supplies inside of the desk. Most of these models were made out of wood. Eventually desks that folded up were designed; these could easily be put away if necessary. These new desks also helped pave the way for school becoming compulsory for all children under 16, making some schools significantly overcrowded.
As time went on, the idea of saving wood became in fashion. In the 1960s and 1970s, many desks were made fully out of metal, but these were mostly used for high school students. Some of these desks were attached to folding chairs, while some were fixed. Most school desks had storage space underneath the chairs. Still made in the design of Loughlin's brainchild, most of the desks contained a chair with writing tablet attached to it, although differing to accommodate materials and space saving.
Some of the earlier desks, which lift up to allow storage, are still used in primary schools. However, there have been significant safety concerns about these desks. Children have frequently opened them and accidentally closed them on their arms causing broken bones. In addition, many of the cubbies now cause cheating concerns as students can put their cell phone under their desk and text to one another. But despite these concerns, desks remain a fixed symbol in our minds representing either our beloved or loathed days in school.
Writing since 2008, Fiona Miller has taught English in Eastern Europe and also teaches kids in New York schools about the Holocaust. Her work can be found on Overstock.com, ConnectED and various other Web sites. Miller holds a B.A. in French from Chapman University and an M.A. in educational theater from New York University.