In 1970, Dyer, Indiana was a growing community. The steel mills of East Chicago and Gary provided a good income to men from around the country seeking a new place to improve their lives.
My parents had moved to the region more than ten years earlier, and my father had become a crane operator in a Hammond mill. My mother landed a great job with Sears, Roebuck and Company.
The Blankenships lived in a three-bedroom ranch home on a cul-de-sac, and life was good. My parents had plenty of money, and I never remember going without much of anything.
I do remember the first week of kindergarten as being one of the most traumatic experiences during my early childhood. And it all began with the event I have labeled “The Black Crayon Incident”.
I was nervous on my first week of school. Not many children my age lived on my street. Most of the children were either a year older than me or a year younger me. I had not attended preschool and had no idea of what to expect when I began kindergarten. And I was definitely not prepared for the wrath of the adults I was about to experience.
I remember the children saying there was a “bad” word on the back of the portable chalkboard. And I remember wondering what a “bad” word was. I had grown up in a home where profanity was not part of the household vocabulary. But I didn’t go look at the back of the chalkboard. I was busy drawing a picture on construction paper. Besides, I didn’t want to have the teacher see me behind the chalkboard looking up a word that I probably shouldn’t see or hear. In those days, bad meant bad, and bad wasn’t slang for good.
Eventually, the teacher heard the giggles and gossiping that had taken over the classroom.
“What is so interesting?” the teacher demanded, following the gaze of a few students near the chalkboard. Her face expanded with horror at what she saw. Her face quickly transformed into a sculpture of anger.
“Who wrote this word?” the teacher demanded. I had never seen and adult so angry.
No one moved, and no one confessed to the graffiti.
“All right, no one move,” she screeched. “This had to have been done just recently. I am going to come around to every desk. We haven’t used our crayons on any class projects yet, so whoever has a used black crayon must be the culprit.”
It was at that moment that I nearly fainted from fear. I had just been using a black crayon, and that crayon was out of its box, lying in the front compartment of my desk. But I hadn’t written the bad word. I didn’t even know any bad words.
I made matters worse for myself when I tried to put the black crayon away as the teacher was searching the other children’s crayon boxes.
“Stop right there, Daniel Blankenship!” the teacher bellowed, running to my desk in a celebration of successful detective work.
She grabbed the crayon from my five-year-old hand, and then proceeded to nearly rip my arm off as she dragged me to the principal’s office.
“But I didn’t do it,” I screamed. She didn’t listen.
“But I didn’t do it!” I told the principal. He didn’t listen.
I was scared. I was humiliated. I had never heard the word despair, but I was living it.
“You are going to have to get a swat with a wooden paddle on your rear-end for what you did today!” the principal informed me.
“But I didn’t do anything!” Tears were falling faster than I could wipe them up.
The swat hurt so bad that I thought I was going to die. My parents were not called. I wondered if they knew that the principal had hurt their son. I wondered if the principal would do what he did if my dad was in the room. But most of all, I wondered why I was being punished for something I didn’t do.
As I grew older, I watched many courtroom dramas on television. I was fascinated by jury trials in America; fascinated by the fact that our government gave people a chance to prove their innocence.
I admired lawyers who defended the falsely accused, and I realized what a great country I lived in, even if that constitutional right did not extend to the kindergarten classroom I had attended.
I was never given that chance on that fateful day back in kindergarten. So remember my story of “The Black Crayon Incident”, and do not always assume that things are as they seem. It is possible that the man or woman who claims innocence is not only trying to avoid punishment.
I did forget to mention the conclusion to my story. It was later during that kindergarten year when another student admitted to me that he had written the “bad” word on the back of the chalkboard. It didn’t make me feel any better to have that admission offered to me, but I was able to forgive the real culprit for not coming forward and saving me from my punishment. After all, who’s to say the teacher and principal would have believed his admission anymore than they believed my denial.
Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV): “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Even when we are living in desperate times, God is with us through our suffering.