A Story for the Fourth of July — And Every Other Day

Learning about those who shaped our recent history should be mandatory.

There are some stories that should not be limited to one day a year. The following true story, which originally appeared in CMC Digest on July 2, 2014, is one of them.

On the first day of school in September 2005,  Martha Cothren, a history teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, did something not to be forgotten. With the permission of the school superintendent, principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks from her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered there were no desks.

"Ms. Cothren, where are our desks," they asked. She replied, "You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk."

"Well, maybe it's our grades," one responded. "No," she said. "Maybe it's our behavior," said another. "No, it's not even your behaviour," she replied.

So, as the students came and went from the first, second and third periods, still no desks appeared 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 the crazy teacher who had taken all of the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students sat 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."

She then opened the door of the classroom. Twenty-seven U.S. veterans, all in uniform, walked into the classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The vets began placing the desks in rows and then they walked over and stood 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.

"You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks," Martha said. "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."

The daughter of a World War II POW, Martha Cothren was named the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas in 2006.