In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a History teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks. ‘Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?’
She replied, ‘You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.’
They thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s our grades.’ ‘No,’ she said.
‘Maybe it’s our behavior.’ She told them, ‘No, it’s not even your behavior.’
And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.
The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, ‘Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.’
At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha said, ‘You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.’
In 2006, Cothren was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas.
As an end note to this article, I must say none of this is original to me. I was fortunate enough to have a friend send it to me as an email, and I think it is a worthy lesson to share.