I am writing a new book, as I’ve alluded to in the past, but the thing is – I don’t want this to be about me; I want it to be about them … my broken crayons. They matter so much, and too often I feel that somehow I’m inherently selfish, and that even in my noblest of pursuits, I end up focusing on what I want and need.
Today, with this post, I’m asking for feedback to see if this piece has the potential to do what I pray it’ll have the power to do … to shout to the world the stories of those who need voice – the tales of the beautifully broken ones.
Please let me know what you think. Share it, and help me carry on with this project through your honest opinion of whether or not others might need to read it as much as I need to write it.
I look forward to hearing from you,
When I was still an undergrad, pursuing a degree in education, I was forced to take a class on learning how to teach art. I was not aiming to be an art teacher, nor were most of the students in my class I would suppose, however, our program required that we learn how to teach music, art, and physical education just in case we were ever in a situation that demanded we wear more “hats” than our title might suggest.
I didn’t have much of an expectation, but what I learned that first day of class has stayed with me throughout my teaching career. One of our requirements was to bring a twenty-four box of crayons. As soon as our professor entered the room, she warned us that she was going to start by making us all uncomfortable.
She handed out a piece of plain, white paper and asked us to draw her something. Uncomfortable, yes – we weren’t art majors after all, but not too bad. Glancing around I saw similar pictures popping up along my row. Simple trees, suns that looked like wheels with spokes, and (from the braver artists) a few birds or people awkwardly plunked in the cotton cloud or green-grass setting. Nothing too extraordinary. The professor wandered amiably around the room, commenting on the less awful sketches, and smiling kindly at the non-progressive creators. Not terrible at drawing, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all … until she spoke again.
“As future teachers I know that you are mostly Type A personalities. You like things ‘just so’ and you like to be in control. Well, I’d like you to begin this lesson by pouring out every single one of your twenty-four crayons – and breaking them.”
A collective gasp.
She might as well have asked us to break our own fingers. This was nearly as painful. But her demeanor had shifted at this point, and it was clear that no crayon was going to leave alive. Slowly, sadly, you could hear snap after snap of little fallen soldiers giving up their lives for a cause none of us could yet understand.
After the awful massacre, we sat fairly motionless, looking around with each other at the colorful wake of our war on Crayola. The professor spoke up. “That was the hard part,” she said, “but now you’re ready to see the real lesson. Pick up one of your crayons, flip over your picture, and color with it. Press as hard as you can – no form, just scribble out the color. We followed her trail of crazy, it couldn’t be any worse than what we’d just done.
The amazing part was, the papers were beautiful. Vibrant. Bold. Suddenly the simple tools I’d been using since childhood became an entirely new form of media. Instead of the waxy, shady tone we were all used to, our papers were filled with the thick consistency of an oil pastel. Every color was rich and brilliant. It was obvious from our collective, “Wow’s,” that no one was expecting beauty from all our destruction.
“You’ll never know what a crayon is worth,” she said, “until it’s broken.”
And that did it. A cosmic shift. An epiphany. My whole paradigm tilted. Those few minutes of art class became a metaphor for my entire philosophy as an educator. To be broken, is to be useful. To be broken is to no longer be afraid to push a little harder, because the “worst” has already happened. To be broken is to be able to pour out the truest colors you have to offer, because you’re now free enough to bleed passion. Kids recognize this. Teenagers mostly.
Like a pile of broken crayons, they are the leftovers of childhood. Still bright, but messy. Most people don’t want to “go there,” wherever there happens to be. No one wants to pick up a broken crayon when they would rather have something pure and new. I’ve been asked my entire career why I choose to be with middle and high schoolers, and it’s simply because, I’ve fallen in love. Somehow when I was given the choice between the new box of crayons and the throwbacks, I chose the later.
This book is not about me. There is nothing revolutionary I have done. I don’t have a ten-step program for you to follow, no gimmicks or tricks. This is just a love story that I needed to share. After a decade of teaching, I need my broken crayons in the world to know how I feel. And I need burnout parents and teachers to remember how to feel. Because these kids exist. They are in the world – right now, positively dripping with vibrancy. I thank God for continually putting them in my way, and I urge you to pray for a few broken crayons of your own to absolutely stop you in your tracks. And when they do, I hope you’ll recognize the blessing before you and help them release their colors back into your life.